Coral in Japan’s Ogasawara Islands being threatened by Chinese poaching ships

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RocketNews 24:


While the vast majority of Japan’s population is crammed onto its four largest islands, Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Hokkaido, the country’s territories extend much farther out to sea. For example, if you head about 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) south of downtown Tokyo, you’ll come to the Ogasawara Islands, one of Japan’s most remote settlements.

We’ve talked about the Ogasawaras before, and how their beautiful ocean scenery has been helping to attract tourists, to the archipelago. Recently, though, the islands have been seeing an increasing number of extremely unwelcome visitors, in the form of ship coming from China to poach coral.

Japanese authorities and Chinese fishing fleets regularly butt heads in the disputed Senkaku Islands. Things are usually a lot more peaceful, however,  in the Ogasawaras, which presumably have less strategic importance due to their greater distance from mainland Asia and Taiwan.

The Japanese media has a lot more eyes on the ordinarily low-profile Ogasawaras these days, though, with reports of groups of as many as 200 Chinese vessels  gathering to harvest red coral, which is then transported back to China for sale. Xiapu County, a district of Ningde City on the coast of the East China Sea, is said to be the base of operations for many of the poachers.


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In order to recoup the fuel and labor costs for their voyage to Japan, some of the poaching vessels spend two months out of port, employing techniques such as camouflaging their Chinese markings in to avoid arousing suspicion. The coral they gather is then sold illicitly sold in Xiapu, and with more product available than what’s needed to supply local demand, buyers also come from Shanghai to purchase large quantities to resell in other markets that are more lucrative still.

Japanese fishermen in the Ogasawara complain that the poaching activities are already disrupting their catches. Environmentalists and tourism promoters are likewise angry over the illegal practice, given that the slow speed at which coral develops makes any damage an ecological tragedy.


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China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement denouncing the illegal gathering of red coral, and has expressed its intentions to work with its Japanese counterparts in addressing the problem. At least a portion of the Xiapu public is unhappy with the poachers as well, as illustrated by an interior goods shop with a notice posted reminding customers that, “Recent poaching of red coral on the open seas has been staining our town’s image.”

The authorities have also offered rewards of up to 10,000 yuan (US$1,640) for information regarding poaching activities, and anecdotal evidence points to black market sellers becoming less brazen and open in the trafficking of their ill-gotten goods. Here’s hoping the countermeasures continue to be effective, giving the Ogasawara Islands’ coral the earliest possible start on its healing process.


China destroys ivory stockpile in ‘significant symbolic step towards saving Africa’s elephants’


The Telegraph (UK): 

China has conducted its first, large-scale destruction of illegal, stockpiled ivory in a move described by conservationists as “a significant symbolic step towards saving Africa’s elephants”

A police officer stands guard next to ivory and ivory sculptures before they are destroyed in Dongguan, China

A police officer stands guard next to ivory and ivory sculptures before they are destroyed in Dongguan, China Photo: REUTERS

More than six metric tons of tusks, ivory ornaments and carvings were fed into crushing machines by forestry and customs officials in southern Guangdong province, where much of China‘s ivory trade is focused.

The ivory came from shipments from Africa intercepted by customs officers as well as from carving factories and shops in China.

It represented just a fraction of the illegal ivory China – the world’s biggest market for the product – holds in stockpiles, the government said.

One customs official said that its smuggling in to the country was increasing by 10 per cent each year.

Leading conservation groups have applauded the ivory destruction and say they hope the gesture was the first of many.

John Scanlon, Secretary General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the global group tasked with cracking down on the practice, said he hoped it would raise public awareness about the illegal ivory trade, which is thought to cause the death of 35,000 elephants in Africa each year.

China is sending a very powerful message both domestically, to the Chinese people, and internationally, that it is not prepared to tolerate the illegal trade in elephant ivory,” he said.

Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the director of Save the Elephants, said Monday’s move was “a significant symbolic step towards saving Africa’s elephants”, adding that China could change its citizens’ taste for wildlife products, as Japan and Britain had done.

Ivory has been prized as a safe investment by the country’s large and growing middle-class and exchanged between government officials or business partners when deals are struck.

Much of the ivory on the market in China is legal – bought from African governments selling off their stockpiles of seized tusks in 2008. But the continued demand also drives a trade in illicit ivory “laundered” with fake provenance certificates.

In the past year, China has come under concerted international pressure to stem the illegal wildlife trade, particularly since it emerged that poaching may be funding terrorists and fuelling conflicts in Africa.

Mr Douglas-Hamilton said that its leadership should be given credit for a “great shift” in recent years from its previous refusal to even discuss the problem.

Yao Ming, a famous Chinese basketball player, will this month appear alongside the Duke of Cambridge and David Beckham in a public service message broadcast on China’s main television stations about the evils of poaching.

Stiff penalties were recently handed down to eight Chinese citizens for smuggling and an article in the Southern Weekly, a major Chinese newspaper, about the impact of the ivory trade went viral.

However, the government still receives hefty revenues from selling its official stockpile to licensed carving factories.

China’s leadership also appears unwilling or unable to crack down on illegal traders – a survey by the International Fund for Animal Welfare in 2011 found that out of 158 shops and carving factories in four major Chinese cities, 101 were not licensed, or were selling smuggled ivory.

It also remains unclear what will happen to the ivory crushed on Monday. Some will be disposed of and some displayed in a museum exhibit but that the rest will be “preserved”, state-run China National Radio reported. The powder can be used as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine.

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China destroys ivory stockpile in ‘significant symbolic step towards saving Africa’s elephants’