Ocean trash is a global problem. A massive amount of marine debris floats in the sea, and some of it washes up on Okinawa’s beaches. Other trash is left by beachgoers, and some items are dumped to avoid recycling fees.
Okinawa is not unique in having trash on some of its beaches, but Okinawa’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism. Beach trash doesn’t just affect the beauty of the islands and the quality of life for residents, it can also damage the foundations of Okinawa’s tourism industry.
Okinawa is a fantastic place to visit. Discover local culture at World Heritage sites, pottery workshops, and karate dojos. Learn about the wartime “Typhoon of Steel” and Okinawa’s ongoing mission for peace. Experience culinary delights such as goya champuru and umibudo sea grapes, and wash them down with shikuwasa juice or Orion Beer. This is all combined with excellent levels of service, organization, and personal safety.
Above all, Okinawa is promoted as a subtropical paradise in which to relax. Escape the Tokyo metropolis or the neon glare of Osaka, and retreat to ancient forests, coral reefs, and pristine white sandy beaches. However, these forests, reefs, and beaches are fragile, and not investing in their protection is shortsighted.
Beaches attached to hotels are kept immaculate, but when visitors begin to explore the islands they may discover trouble in paradise. If their experience falls below expectations, social media can rapidly spread their concerns, and it would be easy for Okinawa to lose its stellar reputation.
The above video clip was taken at Yoshino Beach on Miyako Island during Golden Week. Below is a photo from Heart Rock Beach on Kouri Island. These are not hidden spots, these are beaches with visiting tourists, and vendors nearby. Some trash is local, some trash is from fishing boats, and some has washed in from other countries. Rather than apportion blame, Okinawa needs to find a solution.
Reducing global usage of plastics. We should all do our best to reduce, reuse and recycle plastics.
Explain to local government that beach trash is a problem with economic implications.
Educate the public and visitors on how to dispose of their trash while exploring Okinawa. Make disposal of trash easily understandable and convenient.
Install accessible, clearly marked, public trash cans that are emptied regularly.
Quickly clean up trash that has been littered, dumped or washed in from the ocean. Individuals and volunteer groups that currently clean up beaches are wonderful. However they need help and teams of professional beach cleaners that target all Okinawan beaches on a regular basis would make a significant difference.
Hire beach cleaners to regularly check and maintain the beaches.
Installing trash cans, and collecting the trash from these cans costs money.
Hiring teams of beach cleaners costs money.
Okinawa Prefecture needs to finance beach cleaning and trash cans as part of its budget for tourism and general quality of life on Okinawa.
When we have time, we’ll translate this post into Japanese as it is local government that can make the policy changes I feel would make a difference. If you are Okinawan and wish to protect the beauty of the islands, why not raise the issue with your local elected official. As an Englishman I have no voice at the Okinawan ballot box, but I’m sure they’d be interested to hear from you.