The Gaijin Gleaner Online Issue 44 - Aug 1996


Road To Ruin?
Hakata Bay and Fukuoka's International Reputation

Fukuoka Island City, for the many of those who have not heard of it, is a 401 hectare artificial island sprawl on a reclamation now starting to occupy the greater part of Eastern Hakata Bay. Conservatively estimated to cost 4 billion US dollars back in 1991, some critics suggest the actual cost will be ten times higher, causing concern for the City's long term finances. 401 hectares is larger than Nokonoshima - in all, several kilometers of concrete and steel. It now forms the familiar backdrop of cranes and bulldozers from Kashii, through Wajiro, all the way out to Saitozaki. (Where the Ferry docks for Seaside Park)

The Artificial Island was started on July 11th 1994 and is due for completion in 2003. The island raises many issues, not least financial, but it is the environmental damage it is causing that has received worldwide attention. Two years into construction it has already devastated the ecology of the Eastern Bay. It has also dented Fukuoka's reputation abroad - surely a cause for concern in a City that prides itself on its internationalism.

Senior representatives of the city, keen to head of criticism, have several times labeled its opponents (presumably including the 123,000 people who signed a petition against it) as communists and liars - an accusation they have been forced to retract and apologize for in front of the City Assembly.

Fukuoka is of course, a sister-city to Auckland in New Zealand. In an effort to head off international criticism and assuage New Zealanders fears about environmental problems associated with the island, the now deputy mayor, Mr Shiki, wrote an open letter in April 1994 to a national newspaper, the New Zealand Herald. There is, alas, not room to reproduce it in its entirety..

"The citizens of Fukuoka, like the citizens of Auckland, place great importance on the nature and migratory birds of Hakata Bay.. The Island City project will emphasis Hakata Bay as a treasure house of migratory birds.. the only objections [to the island] being from five members f the Japanese communist party. and other such parties. In order to recover from their disadvantaged political situation, they are disseminating biased information.."

Mr Shiki continued

"The wetland and the natural seashore, which are an important part of the environment, will be preserved for the migratory birds.. because people take good care of these birds their numbers are still increasing and the limited area of Hakata bay will soon be full of them. In the light of the facts I have presented, I sincerely hope that citizens of Auckland will be able to place their trust in Fukuoka City Council."

The ecological and general environmental effects of the new island are profound. My particular area of expertise is in wetlands and the birds that inhabit them and it is this aspect I will focus on here.

In the light of Mr Shiki's heartfelt letter, a few more facts..

FACT: By the City's own data the numbers of birds in eastern Hakata Bay has already decreased by 50% or more in just 6 years (comparing figures 1989 - 1995 - see table at bottom)

FACT: - Hakata Bay was until 1990 one of the most important wetlands for migratory birds in the whole of East Asia. with possibly as many as 200,000 birds of over 250 species using the bay as a refuelling stop on their migration in the course of a year. Several of these birds nest in Siberia and then fly down to Australia and New Zealand to spend the northern winter. One species confined to Asia, the Black Faced Spoonbill, numbers only 450 in the world (making it perhaps 5 times rarer than the tiger): 20 were in Hakata Bay in 1995/1996. All 20 are threatened by a variety of development plans here in Fukuoka. Far from being treasured, the main Spoonbill roost site was bulldozed for garbage-storage back in 1991; the present, last suitable roost, is set to go next year.

Bird numbers will continue to decline as areas now being used by birds continue to disappear. Only if the Bay Waters are concreted down to a puddle, occupied by a lone gull or pigeon will Hakata bay ever be "full" of birds..

FACT: - the City claims that the Island can cause no impact because, as stated in a report back in 1993 "as birds can fly and fish can swim, the Island will cause no impact" to wildlife populations.

It is - er - true that birds can fly - but this takes no account of the fact that there are no other suitable places for them to go in Hakata Bay, nor in Southern Japan. Many species are in global decline, (some terminally) because of reclamations like this, including some species that Australians and New Zealanders consider there own.

FACT: The Artificial Island and associated development has been criticised by most major international environmental groups and has received press coverage in many countries. (Focussing on Japan's attitude to the environment) as well as provoking severe concern amongst some city councillors in the sister City of Auckland.

The most recent news, again headlined in the New Zealand Herald was in June this year. It was prompted by Fukuoka's unveiling of plans to build a road across parts of Wajiro tidal flats in the East of the Bay, precisely the area that Mr Shiki promised New Zealanders would be "preserved in its present condition and designated an ecopark (natural life preservation area)"

This new plan has already provoked negative responses from environmental groups in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, to name but a few. But we will leave the last word to a New Zealander, one who best sums up the mistrust engineered abroad by Fukuoka's style of planning. In a letter to Mayor Kuwahara on 25 June 1996 the New Zealand Spokesperson for the Opposition, the Honourable Mr Peter Hodgson wrote:

"Imagine.. My dismay at hearing there are plans to construct a road across the Wajiro tidal-flat area. When in Fukuoka I was re-assured repeatedly by officials and construction executives that ..Wajiro .. would be protected. Should road construction proceed, then express assurances will have been broken. These are assurances I was freely offered.."

Nial Moores

Birds In the Bay
1989 1990 1993 1994 1995
59062 46391 26579 27463 25661

Figures from the "Artificial Island Preparation report".
Note - in 1991 Kashii Park Port reclamation was begun.

Nial Moores is international co-ordinator, Kyushu/Japan wetlands Action Network. The views and opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Gaijin Gleaner.


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