Before a major typhoon, islanders will flock to the two grocery stores on the island to stock up on groceries. The ferry comes from the mainland twice a week, laden with tourists and giant cargo boxes full of mail and food. That evening, it seems like the entire island, population 2,000, gets in line to buy their share of fruits, vegetables, & rice.
Days that the boat leaves, everyone takes a break from work to socialize on the dock and see friends and family off with handmade hibiscus leis and festive taiko drumming.
As myth has it, once the ship has departed and is well on its way, if a loved one throws a lei off deck and the lei washes up on the Chichijima beach, then someday they will return.
Islanders don’t live by the calendar week. Rather, our days and nights are determined by the boat’s biweekly arrival. Sometimes, during bad weather conditions, Ogasawara-maru arrives a few days late, and everything is thrown off- the grocery store shelves are quickly depleted, and weekends are pushed back. The island is really one big extended family; a giant grapevine- everyone knows everyone else’s business.
Chichijima is similar to Hawaii in a plethora of ways: the same tropical fish flock within the coral reefs, the often unbearable humidity (offset by a ocean-blown wind) filters through the air, and we’ve got hula here too. For that reason, there are a bunch of Hawaiians who have moved here, flourishing.
Like Hawaii, Chichijima’s economy depends on the tourist trade, offering visitors plenty of aquatic souvenirs and opportunities to snorkel, surf, kayak, hike, whale-watch, dolphin-watch, dive, and wind-surf. Chichijima also produces the world’s most expensive coffee and equally pricey sea salt.
Since the Ogasawara Archipelago (also known as the Bonin Islands) was recognized as a World Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO in June of 2011, a handful of nonprofits dedicated to beach cleaning have popped up. There is also a turtle conservatory on the island.
When turtles comes onto the various beaches to lay their eggs, islanders take note, and once the eggs have hatched everyone (including students) goes to retrieve them. Baby turtles are in danger of wandering onto the road and getting crushed, getting eaten by hungry sharks, and getting entangled in industrial debris. The older they are, the more chances they have of survival in the vast oceanic world.
So, every hatching season, this conservatory fills to capacity and takes care of them. The facility has a little shop and informational museum, and is open to the public (but don’t feed the turtles please). Tourists can even dedicate ¥500 to the conservatory in exchange for a photograph, holding a wee little baby turtle.
In the last decade, pet cats and dogs can no longer roam freely for fear that they will haunt and terrorize endemic species’ feeding grounds. In fact, there is a business completely dedicated to hustling up all the stray kitties on the islands and rehoming them.
Not only do escaped domestic animals pose a threat to the ecosystem, but somehow mountain goats found their way onto the islands and are a big problem. Sometimes, Pelan’s odd dachshund-lab mix hunts them, and poor Chika and Ryo have to deal with cooking smelly goat meat (male goats are especially pungent). I myself trotted past a small herd of them grazing in the hills, beside the island’s only major roadway.
Ogasawara has a plentitude of endemic species: bonin wood pigeons (not to mention 195 species of endangered birds), bonin flying boxes (also an endangered species), and snake-eyed skinks galore (plus much more). Before boarding the Ogasawara-maru at Takeshiba harbor in Tokyo, tourists and natives alike must scrape the bottoms of their luggage and shoes to discard any creepy crawlies that might be stuck there. No need for any more alien species on the Bonin Islands, thanks.
Worse than goats, feral cats, large rats, and land snails, are the red coral poachers who ghost around the island in search of bounty. Coral sells for an incredibly high price, selling for as much as $1,550/gram. Its no wonder pirates will shoulder the cost of coming from as far as Korea and China to this little group of islands in the northwestern Pacific Ocean.
The Japanese Coast Guard and other volunteers keep a close watch on the islands in hopes of dissuading pirate approach. Unfortunately, the Japan government does not control coral trade and refuses to directly deal with this problem, endangering the multiplicity of underwater plant and animal species who rely on coral for both home and nourishment.
Bothered? Well, you can do your small part to take care of aquatic life by self-educating, recycling, and not littering!
That’s all for now, folks. Until next time!