Endangered sea turtles losing key guardian as NPO has to close
By TSUYOSHI TAKEDA/ Staff Writer
YAKUSHIMA, Kagoshima Prefecture–For endangered loggerhead sea turtles that lay their eggs on famed Nagatahama beach here, a group that kept unruly onlookers at bay was perhaps their best hope.
For the past three decades, Yakushima Umigame-Kan patrolled the beach when the turtles came ashore for one of nature’s spectacles to ensure the creatures were not disturbed.
But the nonprofit organization is struggling to find volunteers and full-time staff to continue its research and conservation activities, and is set to disband shortly.
This development has left sea turtle experts alarmed, as they fear that Nagatahama beach, the largest egg-laying site for loggerheads in the North Pacific, will no longer be a safe haven for the endangered species.
The beach environment could be ruined if there is no proper monitoring during the egg-laying season, said Yoshimasa Matsuzawa, chairman of the Sea Turtle Association of Japan.
Kazuyoshi Omuta, the 67-year-old head of Yakushima Umigame-Kan, has spent 33 years as the “watchdog” of Nagatahama beach.
He urges the crowds that gather to watch the turtles laying eggs at night to refrain from using flashlights with strong beams or do anything that might scare them.
Loggerheads, like other species of sea turtle, sometimes lay eggs several times a year. The spectacle is repeated 2,000 to 5,000 times a year on Nagatahama beach, making the spot a top tourist draw.
The beach, which has been registered in the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, is on Yakushima island, a designated national park.
Yakushima Umigame-Kan began its sea turtle conservation work in 1985. But in recent years, it has been hard-pressed to find volunteers and full-time staff to keep going.
Adding to the group’s woes, Omuta’s health has sharply deteriorated since last year as he suffers from symptoms similar to angina. Omuta says he has reached his physical limit.
The NPO’s board meeting last October decided to submit a proposal to disband when the group convenes its general meeting in February.
“It would be such a loss for researchers at home and abroad if its mine of research data accumulated over so many years was discontinued,” Matsuzawa said.
In its peak years, the group fielded up to 15 members daily for overnight surveys held between May and July.
But last year, only one or two individuals except for Omuta were available, and sometimes he had to work alone.
Yakushima Umigame-Kan is looking for full-time staff for a monthly salary of between 140,000 yen ($1,240) and 200,000 yen, depending on the individual’s experience and skills. But it has not received any applications.
“Yakushima Umigame-Kan has accomplished a lot, so we hope to discuss with related organizations what steps can be taken when the group officially decides to disband,” said Jun Tanaka, chief ranger at the Environment Ministry’s Yakushima Ranger Office, which is in charge of managing the national park.
Copyright © The Asahi Shimbun Company.