New park rises from the ashes of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and tsunami

06 November 2013 | Article

As the Asia Parks Congress sets to open in Sendai, Japan, a new national park in the region devastated by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami is seeding hope for local communities.

The Sanriku Fukko (fukko means reconstruction in Japanese) National Park is Japan’s most ambitious “Green Reconstruction Project” – a philosophy of revitalization for the rugged and scenic northeastern Japanese coast that includes not only rehabilitating natural areas, but also providing opportunities for local culture and lifestyles to thrive.

Sanriku’s growth is emblematic of the potential of protected areas to address today’s most pressing challenges including disaster risk reduction and recovery, health and well-being and sustainable economic development. The tsunami resulting from the 9.0 earthquake on March 11, 2011 razed a broad swathe of coastline and inland areas around Sendai, leaving behind a moonscape of mud, debris and shattered community ties and livelihoods.

Sanriku emerged in 2012 as one response to the arduous task of recovery. With Sanriku’s inception, the goal is to maintain conservation in the area through a collaborative and participatory rebuilding structure that includes the voices of the local people.

“Sanriku Fukko National Park will contribute to the reconstruction of the damaged area after this disaster,” says Toshio Torii, Director of the National Park Division of the Ministry of the Environment, Japan. “It will inform visitors of nature’s benefits, while also providing them with an opportunity to learn how the daily life and culture in the region are built upon nature. It is a living example of how protected areas, including national parks, can play a key role in disaster risk reduction and disaster reconstruction.”

Today, Sanriku is at the centre of a determined rebuilding enterprise which includes restoration of natural features such as seagrass areas and tidal flats, ecotourism, a long distance nature trail, field museum, capacity building through education, sustainable development, and environmental monitoring. It will also reconnect the region’s forests, rivers, sea and satoyama – the border areas between the mountain foothills and arable flat land in Japan.

The Ministry of the Environment in Japan is working with the governments of Aomori prefecture, Iwate Prefecture, and Miyagi prefecture, local communities and collaborators from NGOs and institutions from outside the country to ensure the activities enrich the region’s culture and way of life, and encourage other participatory local development.

Sanriku’s fruition comes as Sendai prepares to host the ground-breaking Asia Parks Congress November 13 - 17 – the first pan-Asia forum dedicated to the region’s extremely diverse protected areas. As the world’s fastest developing region, pressures on Asia’s natural resources are continuing to mount. One of the region’s greatest challenges is reconciling breakneck development with nature conservation. The Asia Parks Congress seeks to address this by showing that protected areas provide natural solutions to critical challenges the region faces. The Congress theme Parks Connect aims to connect nature and parks with people, and people with people, to chart a future for Asia’s natural heritage where both communities and nature thrive. It seeks to offer a regional perspective and build momentum for a worldwide protected areas event – the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 – which will be held in Sydney, Australia in November next year.

The World Parks Congress takes place only once every 10 years. It will expand on the Asia Parks Congress theme, striving to achieve greater understanding of the role protected areas play in conserving biodiversity and delivering ecosystem services, while also positioning them within the broader goals of economic and community wellbeing.

Sanriku is a thriving example of protected areas’ potential. Rising from the ashes of disaster, it will serve as a pillar of economic, community and cultural health for generations to come. The traditional beliefs of local fisherman in northeastern Japan have shown veneration for the mountains and a strong connection between the forest and the sea. Sanriku’s design and construction has called for respecting these beliefs and strengthening the connections between nature and local communities, which enriches culture and traditions, and has led to momentum for sustainable development and economic activity which takes nature into account. In devastated communities still under reconstruction, it serves as a beacon of nature’s potential and power.