Land area: 3,520 ha
Designated on March 5, 2014
In the beginning of the 1980s, I heard an interesting story. A Japanese raised in Okinawa told me that the first time he saw the grayish sand on the coast around Tokyo he was surprised by the color and asked if it were due to pollution. Indeed, the beaches of Okinawa are impressive for their dazzling white sand which comes from coral limestone.
Formerly part of Okinawa Kaigan Quasi-National Park, the Kerama Islands (Japanese: Kerama Shoto) were separated from that park and designated a new national park in March 2014. Excluding Oze and Yakushima National Parks which were formerly parts of other national parks, it was the first designation of a new national park since the 1987 designation of Kushiroshitsugen National Park 27 years earlier.
The Kerama Islands were designated a new national park for the outstanding views they offer of the island-studded ocean around them, the exceptionally clear and distinctive blue sea which has been nicknamed “Kerama Blue,” the diverse and gorgeous ecosystems centered on the coral reefs, and the breeding areas for humpback whales.
The designated park area encompasses the Kerama Islands which are located about 30 km west of Naha City and the sea extending 7 km from their shores. The park has a land area of 3,520 ha and a sea area of 90,475 ha. Of that sea area, 8,290 ha with a depth of 30 m or less have been designated a marine park area. The two main islands of Tokashiki and Zamami are 15.8 km2 and 6.7 km2, respectively, in land area.
Ryukyu Island pine is the main species of tree on the mountain ridges of the Kerama Islands. In addition to natural forests, there are many planted forests. The trees on the western side of Tokashiki Island are short due to the strong winds there, with the trees in some areas measuring a mere 3 m. Castanopsis sieboldii (an evergreen tree belonging to the beech family) cover most of the large islands of the Ryukyu Islands, but such forests are found only in certain parts of the Kerama Islands. Clusters of Livistona chinensis, a type of fan palm, create a unique tropical ambience here.
［Ryukyu Sika Deer］
The Ryukyu Sika deer (Cervus nippon keramae) is the subspecies of Japanese Sika deer (Cervus nippon) that lives in the southernmost parts of Japan, and they can be found in four of the Kerama Islands, including Aka Island. Based on early records and other materials, it is thought that the Japanese Sika deer was introduced here from around the 17th century and then evolved in a way different from those on more northern islands. Today the Ryukyu Sika deer is considered a distinct subspecies of the Japanese Sika deer because it is smaller in size than the Japanese Sika deer. The Ryukyu Sika deer has been given special status by the national government under the Act on the Protection of Cultural Properties. In recent years, the deer have become accustomed to people and can now be observed from a close distance.
Other land animals include species that have a very small range, such as the Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtle (Geoemyda japonica) and Goniurosaurus kuroiwae orientalis (a distinct subspecies of Kuroiwa’s ground gecko).
The waters around the Kerama Islands offer some of Japan’s finest diving. Local governments have developed guidelines and engage in activities to protect the coral reefs, including exterminating crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci). There are plans to set up nature restoration facilities in Tokashiki and Zamami Villages. There is also whale watching in the winter when the humpback whales come to the area.
There are regularly scheduled high-speed boats and ferries from Naha City in Okinawa Island to Zamami Island and Tokashiki Island.