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Bountiful wetlands where wildlife flourishes

Eco Assets in Hokkaido

Japan In-depth

As Japan is surrounded by the sea and also receives abundant rainfall, it is a country blessed with water. Consequently, different kinds of wetlands including marshes, lakes, mudflats, coral reefs, mangrove forests, paddy fields and spring-fed ponds are formed and support a wide variety of wildlife ecosystems.
Hokkaido in particular has high moors created by the abundance of rainwater. The largest marsh in Japan, called Kushiro-shitsugen Marsh, covers approx. 18,000 hectares in Hokkaido.

Creatures living in wetlands

Bountiful wetlands are an important stopover spot for whooper swans and other birds. Lake Komuke-ko in the coastal city of Mombetsu on the Okhotsk Sea is a stopover paradise for about 200 species of rare wild birds, and is a mecca for birdwatchers. Endangered species such as the red-crowned crane can also be seen in Kushiro-shitsugen Marsh.
(C) Hokkaido Tourism Organization
Fascinating insects include Aeshna subarctica subarctica (dragonfly), unique dragonflies of Hokkaido that are able to survive the severe climate. In the case of amphibians and reptiles, Siberian salamander and Ezo brown frog are typical examples considered to live only in Hokkaido in Japan.
(C) Hokkaido Tourism Organization
Fish species include the Japanese huchen, the largest freshwater fish in Japan, which can grow to 1—1.5 m long. They live only in Hokkaido, and the number of adult fish living in the wild is reported to be less than 1,000, so it is often referred to as the illusive fish. Moreover, the natural run of pink salmon or humpback salmon in Churui River in Shibetsu Town, Shiretoko-hanto Peninsula is also a precious treasure.
(C) Hokkaido Tourism Organization
Wetlands are also a haven for plants. For instance, Shunkunitai in Nemuro City is a sand spit created by ocean currents, and one of the world's only two forests of Sakhalin spruces grows wild in the sandy soil here.
(C)Wild Bird Society of Japan

Efforts toward harmonious coexistence with humans

Due to the influence of global warming and the development of the surrounding area, some wetlands are at risk of drying out. In response, governments and citizens' groups in various countries are making a coordinated effort through preservation activities. Eco tours are one of the activities aimed at strengthening awareness and understanding.
In the case of Onuma Pond in Wakkanai City, the northernmost wetland in Hokkaido, Bewick's swans started flying in about 10 years ago thanks to the people's dedicated feeding, and sometimes 30—40,000 swans arrive from Siberia in April and October. You can borrow binoculars or telescopes free of charge at the Onuma Bird House.

The "Akkeshi Waterfowl Observation Center" in Bekanbeushi-shitsugen Marsh, Lake Akkeshi-ko conducts research and study on wetlands and activities for deepening our understanding of wetlands. You can also enjoy river rafting in a canoe at this Center.
(C) Hokkaido Tourism Organization
Onuma Bird House
20 minutes by taxi from Wakkanai Station on the JR Soya line
Akkeshi Waterfowl Observation Center
Kushiro > (1 hour by Kushiro Bus "Kiritappu line") > Akkeshi

What are Ramsar Convention wetlands?

The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty developed in 1975 on important wetland habitats for waterfowl. Japan joined the Ramsar Convention in 1980. The first marsh to be registered in Japan was the Kushiro-shitsugen Marsh and now 33 places are registered, 12 of which are situated in Hokkaido.

Major wetlands under the Ramsar Convention

Kushiro-shitsugen Marsh, Kushiro City
This marsh extends along the Kushiro-gawa River and is home to many wildlife species that have disappeared from other places. There is a wide range of vegetation types from high moor to low moor, as well as many precious wildlife species including the red-crowned crane, Siberian salamander and Leucorrhinia intermedia ijimai (dragonfly). The area is designated as a national park, and you can observe the marsh and red-crowned cranes from the observatory.
Kiritappu-shitsugen Marsh (Hamanaka Town, Akkeshi)
This marsh extends along the east coast of Hokkaido, beside the Pacific Ocean. Beautiful sand dunes separate the ocean and marsh, and if 2—3 m of earth is dug away, sea sand is visible beneath. Most of the marsh is moorland of sphagnum moss.

It is called a marsh of flowers because so many colorful blooms compete for space from spring to autumn. Whooper swans and Bean geese fly in, and it is also a breeding ground for red-crowned cranes. The Kiritappu Nature Center organizes eco tours (approx.¥4,000) throughout the year.
Uryunuma-shitsugen Marsh (Uryu Town, Uryu)
This marsh located in the mountains of mid-western Hokkaido is like a hidden secret spot. It is maintained and recharged with water from snowmelt and rain, and groups of aquatic plants, swamp vegetation and alpine plants coexist in harmony. The opening date for visitors is announced in spring every year.
(C) Hokkaido Tourism Organization
Sarobetsu-genya Moor (Toyotomi Town, Teshio)
Sarobetsu moor covers a large area of 23,000 ha, which is also called Sarobetsu-genya. As the name suggests, it is a vast place of boundless scenery. In a wild flower garden at the center of the moor, ezokanzo (day lily), gentian and bog rosemary bloom from early summer to autumn, creating a flowery carpet. This moor is also on the migration route for different species of birds on their way to various places in Japan from Sakhalin. The Visitor Center and restaurant is open from May to October, so you can enjoy a walk along the 1.1 km wood-deck path.
Notsuke-hanto Peninsula/Notsuke Bay (Bekkai Town, Notsuke)
Notsuke-hanto Peninsula is a curve-shaped peninsula jutting out into Nemuro Strait in the far eastern part of Hokkaido. At 28 km long, it is the largest spit in Japan, and 40% of the bird species confirmed in Japan can be found there. Red-crowned cranes have been spotted there recently, and Steller's sea eagles and white-tailed sea eagles also fly in. The place is filled with colorful blooming flowers in summer, and on the seashore, the remains of a primeval forest still stand here forming a unique landscape. Drift ice comes alongside the shore in winter. Sightseeing in a horse-drawn cart is organized by the Nature Center from May to October.
(C) Notsuke-hanto Peninsula Nature Center
Lake Tofutsu-ko (Abashiri City and Koshimizu Town)
Lake Tofutsu-ko extends in front of a wild flower garden, and the evening view there is exquisite. At the approach of winter, more than 2,000 whooper swans fly in. There is a swan observation hide fully equipped with heating and toilet facilities.
(C) Hokkaido Tourism Organization