Island Goes Missing in Japan on Northern Sea Border

A low-lying island has disappeared from view off the North coast of Japan.
Jessica Miley

Japanese authorities are concerned after it seems that one of the country’s islands has gone missing. A small uninhabited island called Esanbehanakitakojima was reported missing by residents in earlier this year.

Satellite imagery from 2018 shows a rocky shoal in the islands former position. 30-year old marine charts listed the island was roughly 1.5 meters above sea level and locals in the area clearly remember the island.

Island well-known by fishermen

 “Around a decade from 1975, there was a small island around there, and we stayed clear of the area,” an elderly fisherman told national Japanese newspaper - Asahi Shimbun . The island should be visible from beaches near Sarufutsu village near the northern tip of Hokkaido. 

Authorities are particularly concerned about the loss of the island as it may mean that Japan's territorial waters will shrink. The island was part of a collection of landmarks that served as part of the land basis for Japan's territorial seas claim. 

Japan frets over sea border

The island received its name in 2014 in an effort to formalize the claim. With the island missing in action, Japan's sea border might now be closer to Hokkaido. 

The island may have simply eroded away over time, helped by drift ice and storms in the wintertime. According to Asahi Shimbun, the island was first reported missing on September 1st by Hiroshi Shimizu, 47, author of “Hito-zukan” a picture book on hidden islands. 


The author had traveled to Sarufutsu to see Esanbehanakitakojima as part of his research in writing a sequel. However, he could not locate the island and so he approached the Sarufutsu village fishery cooperative association. 

A member of the association, Tomohiko Kihara, 38, who is familiar with the area, used various charts to try and find the island. Kihara said the island could not be located either from land or from fishing boats. 

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The coast guard plans to investigate the missing island to ensure the area is safe for boats to navigate through. It isn’t totally uncommon for small islands to disappear due to a combination of erosion and sea level rise. 

More islands may be lost as sea levels rise

The Solomon Islands in the Pacific ocean recently lost five uninhabited reef islands. As climate change takes effect and if predicted sea levels rise occurs, more low-lying islands may face extinction. 

The Carteret Islands belonging to Papua New Guinea are a set of stands facing this disaster. Despite being the front line of climate change, many people still live on the islands surviving off daily caught fish and coconuts. While island life sounds peaceful, as the sea level rise, life is changing quickly for the people of the Carteret Islands. Many families must begin to decide to locate to Bougainvillea before it is too late.

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