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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tottori Sand Dunes in Japan


Facing the Sea of Japan, the Tottori Sand Dunes are some of the most spectacular dunes in the country and a major tourist attraction. But over the decades, they have lost some of their beauty due to severe erosion.
Surveys conducted by the Tottori prefectural government show that the main cause of the erosion is a change in the coastal currents caused by port construction.
As a countermeasure, the prefectural government in 2005 began recycling sand dredged from the harbor. This has succeeded in halting further erosion. The effort is attracting attention as a model to fight similar cases that occur frequently around Japan.
Measuring 16 kilometers from east to west and 2.4 km from north to south, the dunes are famed for their majestic, undulating beauty. Near the sea, however, parts of the dunes have collapsed and appear cliff-like.
Many years ago, the dunes ran down to the sea in gentle curves. However, over the past 50 years the shoreline has receded about 40 meters, eroded by the ceaseless pounding of the waves.
The collapsed section of the dunes stretches about 500 meters, exposing old geological layers that are a few meters high.
"The wide sand beach that was here in my childhood is gone," said Yoshiyuki Yasumoto, 36, a prefectural government employee.
Erosion has also taken its toll on other beaches. The issue was taken up a few years ago by the prefectural assembly.
Then-Governor Yoshihiro Katayama acknowledged the seriousness of the problem and vowed to work up a strategy to cope with the destruction. The work started in 2002.
At the time, Kazunari Yamada, 54, was assistant chief of the rivers, erosion and sediment section. His group was responsible for managing the seashore. Yamada and Yasumoto, who was also a member of the section, were assigned to the project.
They collected old aerial photos to track the changes in the shoreline and in 2004 launched a study committee of experts on seashores and harbors. Takaaki Uda, former head of the department in charge of rivers at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism's Public Works Research Institute, was a member of the committee.
The Tottori Sand Dunes were formed by sand deposited by the Sendaigawa river, located about 3 km to the west.
But with the upgrade of Tottori Port facilities located at the mouth of the river in the 1980s and the construction of a massive breakwater, sand from the river and the dunes flowed inside the breakwater. The gentle waves in the protected area allowed the sand to settle to the bottom.
Studies showed that when this sand was dredged to clear routes for ships, even more sand filled the void. Construction of harbors and fishing ports were also blamed for erosion of other coastal areas.
To protect the sand beaches, the prefectural government established a set of guidelines in 2005 for administrators of different government entities to cooperate in determining the causes and taking measures to fight back.
The same year, work began to return soil and sand dredged from Tottori Port to shallow waters in front of the dunes.
Prior to this, the dredged sand was used in land reclamation projects. Last summer, the prefectural government announced that the shoreline that had previously disappeared at an average rate of 80 centimeters a year was no longer receding.
Success stories like these are rare in Japan and municipalities in Kanagawa and Shizuoka prefectures that suffer similar erosion problems sent observers to Tottori.
Along with ports, dams are also responsible for seashore erosion.
At Nakatajima Sand Dunes in Shizuoka Prefecture facing the Enshunada Sea, the shoreline has receded about 200 meters during the past 40 years.

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