Japan considers closing off Katoku beach as climate change and storms ravage region
It’s one of the final stretches of pristine sand and crystal clear water in a country ravaged by wild storms. And a fight is brewing to stop its “horrendous” transformation.
It’s one of the last untouched beaches in Japan with its crystal clear blue water and perfect waves attracting tourists and surfers from around the world.
But the picturesque Katoku beach, located on the sub-tropical island of Amami-Oshima in the Ryukyu archipelago, could soon be a thing of the past.
The beach is the final natural hamlet on the Amami islands, and one of the last in Japan, with locals living behind the protection of a natural dune.
Japan is often ravaged by massive tropical storms, which has forced authorities to erect concrete seawalls across most of the nation’s beaches.
Katoku has not been immune to these storms, prompting the government to announce a 6.5m-tall, 180m-long seawall running the length of the beach.
The beach has been under threat since October 2015, when the government first announced its plans, but the battle to keep Katoku in its natural state is heating up.
The seawall plan has kicked off massive protests in the town of Katoku, with locals saying the concrete fixture would “displace the natural sand dune buffer causing severe erosion and eventually lead to the disappearance of the famous surfing beach”.
More than half of the residents in Katoku have urged the local government to abandon its plan but construction has already started on sections.
A change.org petition, started earlier this year, has been signed by close to 35,000 people.
“This project would decimate/kill the thousands of hermit crabs and crabs living on the dune, remove the Pandanus trees residents and volunteers have planted from 2015 to 2021, and cover in concrete the sea turtles preferred nesting area,” the petition warns.
“This wouldn’t be the first time a once beautiful beach loved by everyone in Amami-Oshima is transformed into a horrendous concrete enclave that no one can enjoy let alone recognise.”
International not-for-profit conversation group Save The Waves recently joined forces with the Association for the Conservation of Amami’s Forests, Rivers and Coastal Ecosystems (ACAFRCE) to fight the seawall.
“Katoku is one of those very rare places in Japan where one can feel the unity of nature and the connection between mountains, rivers and ocean,” ACAFRCE founder Jon Takaki said.
“This campaign goes beyond protecting another unique surf spot, it is about drawing a line in the sand and setting a new example for coastal conservation in Amami and Japan.”
Save The Waves conservation manager Trent Hodges recently wrote a letter to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) urging the organisation to pressure the Japanese government to drop its seawall idea.
“Hard armouring inevitably leads to coastal erosion and would interrupt the flow and movement of sand along Katoku beach, a process that is absolutely necessary for the surfing wave to continue to function, as well as the dune ecosystem that exists at the edge of the beach,” Mr Hodges said.
“Along those same lines, the Katoku river is the only free-flowing river in Amami-Oshima and a free-flowing river is essential for sand distribution along the beach and provides a natural buffer to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise.”
Mr Hodges said the rejection of the seawall was an opportunity to protect the pristine beach.
“We ask that UNESCO and the IUCN World Heritage Site program consider the impacts of the seawall project before officially designating Amami-Oshima as a World Heritage Site and implore IUCN to join us in requesting that the Kagoshima prefecture reject the project as designed,” he said.
“There is an incredible opportunity to protect the last pristine and uninterrupted beach in Katoku for the benefit of the coastal ecosystem as well as the many tourists and surfers who will continue to enjoy the beach as nature has shaped it for thousands of years.”