2020 hasn’t been all bad, at least not for Okinawa’s Sea Turtles (link to sea turtles page).
While the tourism industry has been heavily affected, in August foreigners visiting Japan and Japanese travelling abroad were down 98.7 and 99.2% respectively, we have seen an opposite effect regarding turtle visitors from the sea arriving on local Okinawan beaches.
There are many reasons we could imagine for this uptick in marine wildlife. Obviously, in nature there are blooms and in certain years we can see more growth from particular plants and animals and we often can’t pinpoint a particular reason for these events.
However, there are 2 obvious changes happening in Okinawa this year which are connected to low tourism numbers that may be in part responsible for creating better environments for marine wildlife.
First of all, and most obvious, is the fact that there are fewer people in the waters and lagoons in front of Okinawa beaches. With almost no tourists inhabiting Oki’s beaches, and with many locals in various states of lockdown, the beaches have been extremely quiet. This makes them an attractive landing spot for sea turtles, and less foot traffic in the shallow waters has given seagrass an opportunity to grow back. Food for thought.
Secondly, with many local resorts, often located on the biggest and most comfortable beaches, temporarily closed or with extreme cost-saving measures in place, resorts have been saving on their electrical bills by turning off their outdoor lighting much earlier in the evening. Harsh white light does not appeal to the turtles, and so they may tend to avoid resort beaches during peak seasons.
Early in _____, a local beachcomber by the name of Munehisa Machida discovered a nest on Uza Beach in Yomitan, and since that day has worked to build a coalition of local activists and environmental protectors to see that the area can remain a safe place for the Okinawan sea turtle population. As a result, a new group has emerged and is working toward NPO status. During 2020 they have identified and protected 10 separate turtle nests on Uza Beach in Yomitan, they have transplanted nests after typhoon damage, they have successfully lobbied the nearby Zanpa Royal Misaki Hotel to keep their lights off earlier, and they have witnessed the safe journey of nearly 1000 baby turtles from nest to sea.
This new group, Chura-mura, is dedicated to creating a sanctuary for turtles on Uza Beach to ensure that generations to come will be able to swim with the turtles, rather than learn about them in school textbooks as an extinct species.
We will continue to follow their story and update our OKILIFE community in our newsfeed.