Impressions of Omotehama
Dr. Lawrence Hildebrand
I had the great pleasure of visiting the Omotehama coast on May 6, 2011 in the good company of Yuji Tanaka and Minako of the Omotehama Network and Dr. Satoquo Seino of Kyushu University. I had spent the previous days touring several other beaches, east and south of Tokyo and came away with an indelible impression of the majesty of Japan’s beaches and the passionate historical connection that the Japanese people have with their coastal areas. Whether surfing, fishing, shell collecting, conducting research, or working to protect the endangered habitat of Loggerhead turtles, there is a dedicated, but seemingly frustrated network of individuals and organizations that care deeply about their coasts but see them changing in what they report as unsustainable ways. It is an example of the classic challenge of balancing necessary social and economic development with protecting and ensuring the long-term provision of ecosystem goods and services that the coasts provide. Japan is not alone in this challenge.
In several areas, I was witness to a highly modified and often eroding coast, the product it seems, of pervasive coastal development and heavy engineering responses that do not seem to be solving the problems they created. My visit was also less than two months after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan’s north-eastern regions so profoundly. This brought back troubling memories from my time in southern Thailand shortly after the 2004 Asian tsunami. I led a Canadian response team that conducted a coastal needs assessment and recommended a different way of thinking about the way those coasts and communities should be developed and protected in the face of both devastating episodic events and the gradual, long-term modification of coastal ecosystems. In the words of esteemed Professor Takaaki Uda, drawn from his excellent book ? Japan’s Beach Erosion: Reality and Future Measures ? a signed copy of which he made a kind gift to me, he stated that “… beach erosion is not a problem only for engineers, but a problem to be tackled by all people.”
Everybody that I met in Japan was acutely aware of the vulnerability of coastal ecosystems, infrastructure and communities and was taking the opportunity of the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami to actively discuss and rethink a more sustainable and enduring approach to the development and protection of their precious coastal areas. I work in the field of Integrated Coastal and Ocean Management (ICOM) and have had the pleasure of observing, researching, teaching and developing coastal policy and management programs in North, Central and South America, the Caribbean and South, Southeast and East Asia. In all of these areas, regardless of culture, history and institutional structure, the people involved, from government authorities in numerous agencies, private sector interests, environmental organizations, the research and academic communities and more, have come to realize that we must look at and manage our coasts in a holistic and integrated way and marshal the resources, capacity and foresight that is required to ensure that our coasts are safe, healthy, productive and resilient for many years to come. I wish Japan and its people well in this important endeavour.
Dr. Lawrence Hildebrand
Adjunct Professor, Marine Affairs, Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada