Section A. What Happened in 1997?
According to a newspaper article dated on August 17th, 1997, the government of Japan - the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Environment Agency (now the Ministry of the Environment) -- sent letters regarding the Isahaya Reclamation Project in response to inquiries from the Ramsar Convention Secretariat.
Both the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Environment Agency (now the Ministry of the Environment) said that an EIA was carried out prior to the project together with a follow-up monitoring of wild birds and that no waterbird species will be extinct due to the project.
However, it is pointed out that such a conclusion contradicts with official statement by the government at the National Diet (Parliament) confirming that no comprehensive investigations on migratory bird species were carried out covering all tidal mudflats within the Ariake Bay.
According to sources including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National League of Environmentalists based in Tokyo submitted a letter to the Ramsar Secretariat requesting a recommendation to suspend the Isahaya Reclamation Project. The Ramsar Secretariat inquired data over impacts on migratory birds by the project. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Environment Agency answered respectively to the Secretariat through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs between May and July 1997.
Their letters are almost identical and clarified the following:
Migratory birds such as shorebirds visiting the Isahaya Bay also use other tidal flats -- estuaries of River Chikugo in Fukuoka Prefecture and Kashima tidal flats in Saga Prefecture and move among those areas; and main foods such as crabs and shellfish for wild birds are abundant in those areas and therefore no waterbird species will be extinct due to the Isahaya Reclamation Project.
Main purposes of the project are:
During the Ramsar Kushiro Conference (COP5) in 1993, both the Japanese Government and NGOs reported the remaining mudflat areas in Japan were rapidly disappearing mainly due to development plans in coastal areas.
The representative of Japanese NGOs pointed out that four major tidal mudflat areas in Japan are endangered.
Isahaya Bay, one of those four major mudflat areas, has now been dried up since the official shutdown of 7-km-long Sea Wall on 14 April 1997. The Sea Wall cut off the water of Isahaya Inner Bay from the Ariake Sea.Although Isahaya Bay deserves the status of a wetland of international importance, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries claims that the project is inevitable for flood control and more agricultural lands.
However, since the official shutdown of the Wall, there has been hue and cry throughout Japan against the project. Newspaper articles and TV programs over Isahaya issues were plenty. Several National Diet members have investigated the site and officially opposed the projects. They request the Ministry of Agriculture to open the sluices of the Wall while more discussion about the project is needed.
Conservation NGOs have raised several questions: this project is the only and best way for flood control?; similarly, we really need more reclaimed lands for agricultural purpose today?; we are losing this valuable and LARGEST mudflat area in Japan simply because mega-development schemes are unstoppable?
Section B. Why It Matters.
Isahaya Bay Debate: A dying mudflat area in JapanFew have questioned why Japan's supposed "cities of future" are unable to do something as basic as burying telephone wires; why gigantic construction boondoggles scar the countryside (roads leading nowhere in the mountains, rivers encased in U-shaped chutes); why wetlands are cemented over for no reason;
Alex Kerr (2001) "Dogs and Demons - the Fall of Modern Japan" Penguin BooksThe story of Isahaya Bay is a good example of the "unstoppable" force of bureaucratic inertia. In the mid-1960s the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) drew up a plan to reclaim this bay near Nagasaki, Japan's last major tidal wetland. The tides in Isahaya can rise to five meters, among the highest in Japan, and they nurtured a rich sea life in the bay's wetlands, where about three hundred species lived, including rare mudskippers and a number of endangered crabs and clams. On April 14, 1997, everything began to die when officials closed off the waters behind the first part of a seven-kilometer embankment.
The original idea was to provide new fields for farmers in the area. But the number of farmers, which had begun to drop in the 1960s, fell rapidly thereafter, and was reduced to almost half between 1985 and 1995. That nobody would farm these new fields posed a serious problem for MAFF, because the Isahaya drainage project, at \237 billion, was a very large civil-engineering program, a keystone of the ministry's construction budget. So it relabeled the plans a "flood-control project," even though experts believed that the last flood, in 1957, had been of the sort that comes only once every hundred years.
Major projects involve decades of bargaining with vested interests as to the amount of their payoffs, or "compensation," and at Isahaya this long preparatory period ended in the early 1990s. The fishing and farming groups in Isahaya could not refuse a largesse that amounted to hundreds of millions of yen. But this compensation was the gold for which such local groups sold their souls to the devil, for once they received the payoff they could never refund it. Many towns in Japan, having decided to reconsider a dam, nuclear plant, or landfill they have agreed to, learn to their sorrow that the citizens have received more money than they can possibly repay.
In the late 1980s, a group of environmentalists began to object to the Isahaya drainage project. Opposition grew, but MAFF went on steadily building the seven-kilometer dike that shut the wetlands off from the sea. By the time the villagers began to question the project, it was too late.
Enter the Environment Agency, whose role shows how the Construction State has led to strange mutations in the shape of the Japanese government, rather like those crabs that grow an enormous claw on one side while the other side atrophies. While the River Bureau of the Construction Ministry, originally a minor office, has burgeoned into a great empire with a budget surpassing those of many sovereign states and with almost unlimited power to build dams and concrete over rivers, the Environment Agency has shriveled. Starved of a budget and without legal resources, it has ended up a sleepy back office with a dusty sign on the door and very little to do, having been reduced to rubber-stamping the projects of its bigger and stronger brother agencies.
In 1988, only a year before construction of the Isahaya dikes was to begin (but decades after MAFF began planning and negotiating the payoffs), the Environment Agency made a "study" of it all, followed almost immediately by approval with a few minor restrictions. When MAFF closed the dikes in April 1997, it was clear that the Environment Agency's study had been a cursory travesty. Assailed by the media, the only comment of agency chief Ishii Michiko was this: "The result might have been different if the assessment had followed today's environmental standards. . . . But it is unlikely that we will ask the Agriculture Ministry to re-examine the project." In other words, although the Environment Agency was aware that the drainage of the Isahaya wetlands was a disaster, it did not move to stop the project. And why should it? Allowing Japan's last major wetland to die shouldn't concern anyone. MAFF chief Fujinami Takao commented, "The current ecosystem may disappear, but nature will create a new one."
And so it stands. The tideland is dead now, and for no better reason than the necessity for MAFF to use up its construction budget. When asked what Isahaya would do with the drained land, the town's mayor, its most strenuous supporter, had no clear idea. "We are considering using the reclaimed land for growing crops, raising dairy cows, or breeding livestock," he replied. But apparently there are even better uses for land that no one knows what to do with. He added, "We have also studied setting up a training center for farmers from Southeast Asia or conducting biotechnology research."
D. A. Scott and C. M. Poole (1989) "A Status Overview of Asian Wetlands"Although many of Japan's wetlands have disappeared as a result of rapid development in the recent past, the country still possesses a wide diversity of wetland ecosystems of considerable importance for wildlife including a number of threatened species. Many protected areas have been established, and considerable efforts are being made by the conservation bodies to prevent further wetland loss. However, the pressure on wetlands remains severe, particularly from canalization of river channels and conversion of coastal marshes and mudflats to agricultural land and industrial development.
D. A. Scott (1989) "A Directory of Asian Wetlands"Ariake Bay (21)
Area: 180,000 ha (maximum of 30,800 ha of tidal mudflats)
A large shallow sea bay with many estuaries and the largest area of intertidal mudflats in Japan. The mudflats extend in fingers for up to 7 km out from the estuaries of the many rivers entering the bay. The total area of mudflats continues to decrease as more and more land is retained within concrete banks and reclaimed for agriculture.
The average depth of water in the bay is 20m (maximum of 130m), and the maximum tidal variation is 5-7 m.
Section C. History of the Isahaya Reclamation Project and relevant events