Tubu Aliyeva,

Whether you are a water person or not, Japanese prefecture Okinawa deserves a visit.  Okinawa consists of more than 100 islands in the Pacific Ocean out of which 47 are inhabited. Main transportation junction of the prefecture is in Naha City – an island city with high buildings and a lot of amusement. When you are in Naha, you hardly notice that you are in a small island, unless you are passing by one of the distinguishing fish markets.  However, city life is not the motive behind visiting Okinawa, the astounding beaches are, and we are not even talking its remarkable history in this article.

Naha City View, Okinawa, Japan

There are tens of public and private beaches surrounding the main island, and even more in the neighboring islands such as Kerama Islands – group of small islands situated in the southmost part of the main island. According to the statistics[1], Okinawa only fell shortly behind of Hawaii in 2018 regarding the number of tourists, still showing a record-breaking increase for its history (Number of tourists: Okinawa – 9,842,400/ Hawaii – 9,954,548).

The history shows that while increasing number of tourists is generally a good indicator for overall economy, it might end up in the degradation of environment and natural resources unless it is directed towards sustainability. Okinawa suffers from air and beach pollution as the rest of the World. While, based on the statistics[2], the level of pollution is low to moderate, the direction of pollution is not reversed. Pollution shows its effects on the natural environment and damages the indigenous living beings of Okinawa by putting in them in danger of extinction[3].

Development of ecotourism is one of the mostly referred ways of protecting the biodiversity of a visited place by improving its ecological and economic conditions at the same time[4]. So, what is ecotourism precisely? Different from standardized understanding of tourism, ecotourism is based on exploration of the landscape, flora and fauna of a particular place. Ecotourism activities ranges from informative visits to natural areas, to cultural activities. Most governments merge ecotourism into their development strategies as it helps them in two essential levels: First, it is one of the fastest growing industries which comprises more than 10% person of the government budget in most of the developing countries; Second, states are likely to adopt ecotourism strategies as it implies sustainable development and environmental protection, which are the essential issues of 21st century[5].

Tokashiki Island, Part of Kerama Islands, Okinawa, Japan,
photo taken by the author

Officials of Okinawa have never been indifferent towards the development of sustainable tourism and they realized the importance. For example, in 2012, Okinawa Prefectural Government has released a 10-year plan for its tourism development as it is the main economic driver of the island. According to this plan, 6 main issues were addressed, and they included environmental problems and sustainability of tourism as well. The key factors driving tourists to Okinawa were identified as its sea, forests and biodiversity, which emphasized the strong preservation of these three factors.[6] There are still 2 more fiscal years ahead until the end of this plan to see assess its impacts. However, we can already the see the actions taken by the government and citizens. For example, eco-tours are one of the basic offers of tourism agencies around Okinawa. With the help of ecotours tourists visit the scenic, historical places of the Okinawa while learning about those places without damaging the environment. One of the instances of ecotours applicable to beach visits, is visiting the beach with swimming and sunbathing purpose, but without contributing to the pollution by throwing away trash and engaging in destructive actions.

When I was in Ryukyu University in Okinawa, I had a chance to meet up with a student group who were organizing events and activities to promote sustainability in the island. Whether if it is beach clean-ups, or environmentally responsible games which are designed in a way that preserves the environments, or awareness seminars, they were very enthusiastic and hopeful about their initiatives.  Nevertheless, regardless of the emergency calls of the environment, low level of public participation and unity remains one of the main problems and unfortunately, it was no different for these students as they were having difficulty bringing people together as well. Current situations show than warning signals are more real than ever, and we must unite and take necessary actions to protect the Earth while there is still some hope left. If only all people travelled responsibly, without leaving a damage behind, the World could have been a better place for the future generations.

[1] http://www.japanupdate.com/2019/02/okinawa-has-record-number-of-tourists-in-2018-but-still-behind-hawaii/

[2] https://www.numbeo.com/pollution/in/Okinawa

[3] https://okinawanaturephotography.com/category/animals-of-okinawa-2/

[4] Bookbinder et al., Ecotourism’s Support of Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Biology, Vol. 12, No. 6 (Dec., 1998), pp. 1399-1404

[5]  Das S., Sustainable Development and the Indian State, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 46, No. 37 (SEPTEMBER 10-16, 2011), pp. 60-67

[6] Okinawa Prefecture Basic Plan for Tourism Development, http://kyushu.env.go.jp/okinawa/amami-okinawa/plans/ecotourism/pdf/z-3-e.pdf