Fukuoka and Island City

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Hakata Bay in Fukuoka is one of the largest wintering places for Black-faced Spoonbills in Japan, but recent years have seen a decline in the number of migrants. Wajiro Tidal Flat, which used to support a lot of migratory water birds, is shrinking due to landfill from the Island City Project. This project, begun in 1994, involves construction of an artificial island in the frontal waters of the Wajiro Tidal Flat to develop port and harbor facilities and a new urban area. The city of Fukuoka has a plan to develop a Wild Bird Park at one corner of Island City, but the final approved plan for this park (as of January 2015) will not include habitat for Black-faced Spoonbills.

The Landscape Architecture and Community Design laboratory at Fukuoka University, directed by Hisashi Shibata, has been engaged in a variety of activities to protect the habitat of Black-faced Spoonbills in Hakata Bay. In September 2010, Randolph Hester and Marcia McNally of the SAVE Executive Committee visited Fukuoka and participated in a symposium hosted by the laboratory.

SAVE and its partners in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at the University of California, Berkeley, have devoted thousands of hours to studying Island City and Hakata Bay. Over the summer of 2011, members of the SAVE Executive Committee worked with graduate students in an intensive weeklong session (“charrette”) to create a range of alternative land-use plans for Island City. Hester, McNally, and others from SAVE returned to Fukuoka in November 2011 to present these alternative plans to citizens and local officials through a workshop. The area proposed for the Wild Bird Park was originally 8.3 hectares (about 21 acres) and was later increased to 12 ha (31 ac), but SAVE and our colleagues advised further increasing it to 16 ha (40 ac).

Click here (PDF) to read the report “Proposals for Island City: Livability and Nature” (September 2011), which SAVE took to Fukuoka to guide the discussion.

After the 2011 Fukuoka workshop, SAVE International continued to work on the technical aspects of the design for the Wild Bird Park, with the goal of creating a maintenance- and cost-efficient tidal mudflat that shorebirds will actually use. 

In 2012, SAVE led another team of graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley, to produce a more detailed plan for the Wild Bird Park, covering an area of 16 hectares. This plan incorporated the research and advice of scientists from the San Francisco Bay Area who had extensive experience in hydrology, tidal processes, and constructed wetlands. This plan aimed to attract the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill and other migratory shorebirds that visit the Fukuoka region, by opening the perimeter seawall of Island City and create new tidal wetland habitat.

Click here (PDF) to read the report “Island City Wild Bird Park” (February 2012), which presents the plan and its underlying scientific rationale.

SAVE later developed a succinct list of nine main technical considerations for successful wild bird park design for Island City, Fukuoka, Japan.

Click here to read the report outlining these nine technical considerations.

[UPDATE, 2015:]
The final plan for the Wild Bird Park in Fukuoka’s Island City was announced in January 2015. A special committee, organized by the Fukuoka City Port & Harbor Bureau, put together the plan for the park, taking into account the Hakata Bay Eco-Park Zone conservation plan (2010) and the results of several rounds of citizen workshops. The Wild Bird Park design ostensibly follows the concepts of “living with nature,” “place of environmental education,” and the “creation of diverse habitat”. SAVE International challenges this assertion.

The planned Wild Bird Park is considered part of the Eco-Park Zone (encompassing 530 hectares around the northeastern end of Hakata Bay) and will cover 12 hectares, but only half or less of the park will be useful habitat for birds. The plan includes about 2.3 hectares (5.2 ac) of wetlands fed by rainwater and about 3.8 hectares (9.2 ac) of shallow seashore habitat designed as resting places for sandpipers and plovers. However, the remaining 6 hectares (14.8 ac) will be open lawn and hills surrounded by trees: useful for human recreation, but not as shorebird habitat.

This plan comes as a great disappointment to us at SAVE. It fails to reflect research and proposals made by SAVE International, Fukuoka University, and the University of California, Berkeley, who consulted on the plan as early as 2011. We doubt that the final approved plan will provide suitable habitat even for the sandpipers and plovers it was designed to support, given that the 2.3-ha wetland pond will be fed by rainwater (without the introduction of seawater) and the artificial hill and introduced trees will block shoreline visibility. Nearby recreational activities will also pose a threat to the birds. After analyzing the plan, SAVE has concluded that the Wild Bird Park serves primarily recreational purposes, rather than wildlife purposes.

The dramatic change in the design stems from several missteps by the government agencies that have guided the planning process over the years. Since the collapse of the bubble economy, Island City has faced huge monetary deficits. As a result, the developers of Island City have sought ways to boost interest in housing and real estate, and their influence over the agencies drove the final plan. Furthermore, when control over the plan passed from the Environment Bureau to the Port & Harbor Bureau in 2013, crucial research findings and park site proposals which applied best practices were not transferred to the new committee. In addition, although the committee conducted several citizen workshops about the Wild Bird Park, they withheld proper scientific and ecological information from the participants; poor workshop management failed to guide participants in developing a rigorous Wild Bird Park plan. As a result, “park planning by the voice of the Fukuoka citizen” (as the committee claims) was superficial at best. Instead, the park was designed through the unilateral planning of the Fukuoka City government, which ignored the value of healthy wetland restoration.

The plan for Fukuoka Island City began during a period of high economic growth and resulted in anachronistic land development that failed to change with the times and respond to national and environmental concerns. With this approved plan for the Wild Bird Park, Fukuoka City misses a great opportunity for environmental education and shirks its responsibility to support the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill and other migratory birds.