Japan is to put the Ogasawara Islands forward for recognition as a World Heritage site, simultaneously aiming to protect the unique flora and fauna of the chain of volcanic islands and attract more visitors.
Technically part of Tokyo, the Ogasawaras make up an undeveloped, subtropical chain of 20 islands more than 1,000 km south of the Japanese capital. As well as being geographically removed from the rest of Japan, they are a haven for flora and fauna, and the islands' remote location has resulted in several unique species evolving here.
Virtually the entire area of the islands is covered by the Ogasawara National Park, which includes the surrounding ocean. Whale-watching and swimming with dolphins are popular with visitors to the islands, although local authorities hope that achieving World Heritage Site status will bring in more tourists.
"We started the campaign for recognition as a World Heritage Site five years ago and hope this proposal can be accepted," Akira Kobayashi, head of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's bureau promoting the campaign, told Relaxnews.
"At the moment, the islands get around 20,000 tourists each year, but the vast majority of those are Japanese and we want to make the area better known and more accessible to visitors from overseas as well," he said.
The key will be to achieve a balance between the infrastructure required to cater to increasing numbers of visitors while simultaneously protecting the pristine natural environment, he said.
The metropolitan government has drawn up an Ecosystem Conservation Action Plan that meets the requirements of the World Heritage Convention and is designed to conserve everything from the islands' subtropical rainforests to scrub land, coastlines and sea areas.
The government will put forward the Ogasawara Islands, along with the temples of the Hiraizuma area of Iwate Prefecture, as candidates for World Heritage status at the end of January. UNESCO, which oversees the list, will discuss proposed new sites at its 35th World Heritage Committee meeting, to be held in the summer of 2011.
Getting there: Ogasawara Kaiun Line ferries leave from Tokyo's Takeshiba Port and take 25 hours and 30 minutes to reach Futami Port on Chichi-jima Island. One-way tickets start at Y29,250 (€230). There are no flights to the islands.
Best months to go: Between March and July