The Okinotori Islands (沖ノ鳥島, Okinotori-shima) is a Japanese
uninhabited atoll with a total area of 8,482 m2 (2.096 acres).
Its dry land area is mostly made up by three concrete encasings and
there is a 100 by 50 m (330 by 160 ft) platform in the
lagoon housing a research station. It is located on the Palau-Kyushu
Ridge in the Philippine Sea, 534 km (332 mi) southeast of
Oki Daitō and 567 km (352 mi) west-southwest of Minami Iwo
Jima of the
Ogasawara Islands or 1,740 km (1,080 mi) south
of Tokyo, Japan. The atoll is the southernmost part of
Japan and the
only Japanese territory in the tropics.
Japan claims the atoll is significant enough for
Japan to have a 200
nautical mile (370.4 km) exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the
atoll, but the People's Republic of China, South Korea, and the
Republic of China
Republic of China (Taiwan) dispute the Japanese
EEZ saying that the
atoll does not meet the definition of an island under the United
Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
6 See also
8 External links
The English meaning of the name is "remote bird islands".
The atoll has multiple designations in English (Okinotori coral reefs,
Okinotori Islands). Its original name was Parece Vela, Spanish for
"it looks like a sail" (alluding to the original appearance of the
reef). This name has been retained in English as well, especially to
designate the geological formations of the islets.
It was possibly first sighted by the Spanish sailor Bernardo de la
Torre in 1543, certainly by
Miguel López de Legazpi
Miguel López de Legazpi in 1565, and
its first recorded name was Parece Vela ("looks like a sail" in
In 1789, William Douglas arrived with the British ship Iphigenia and,
in 1790, the place was named Douglas Reef (also spelled Douglass
Reef). The existence of the atoll might not have been known by the
Japanese until 1888. In 1922 and 1925, the Japanese navy ship Manshu
investigated the area. In 1931, confirming that no other countries
had claimed the reefs,
Japan declared it Japanese territory, placing
it under the jurisdiction of the
Tokyo Metropolis, classifying it as
part of the Ogasawara Village, and naming it Okinotorishima.
During 1939 and 1941, a foundation was completed for "a lighthouse and
a meteorological observation site" but construction was interrupted by
the outbreak of World War II. After Japan's defeat, the United
States assumed sovereignty over the Ogasawara islands, and returned
authority over the islands to
Japan in 1968.
Japan will concur in any proposal of the
United States to the United
Nations to place under its trusteeship system, with the United States
as the sole administering authority, Nansei Shoto south of 29° north
latitude (including the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands), Nanpo
Shoto south of Sofu Gan (including the Bonin Islands, Rosario Island
and the Volcano Islands) and Parece Vela and Marcus Island.
Treaty of San Francisco
Treaty of San Francisco (1951)
1. With respect to Nanpo Shoto and other islands, as defined in
paragraph 2 below, the
United States of America relinquishes in favor
Japan all rights and interests under Article 3 of the Treaty of
Japan signed at the city of San Francisco on September 8,
1951, effective as of the date of entry into force of this Agreement.
Japan, as of such date, assumes full responsibility and authority for
the exercise of all and any powers of administration, legislation and
jurisdiction over the territory and inhabitants of the said islands.
2. For the purpose of this Agreement, the term "Nanpo Shoto and other
islands" means Nanpo Shoto south of Sofu Gan (including the Bonin
islands, Rasairo Island, and the Volcano Islands) and Parece Vela and
Marcus Island, including their territorial waters.
— Agreement between
Japan and the
United States of America
Concerning Nanpo Shoto and Other Islands (1968)
Between 1987 and 1993 the government of
Tokyo and later the central
government built steel breakwaters and concrete walls to stop the
erosion of Okinotorishima, which today leaves only three of the five
rocks that were present in 1939 above water; in 1988 the
Science and Technology Center built a marine investigation facility
which it has since maintained following typhoon damage. Funding for
full repairs was finally allocated in early 2016. The facility also
doubles as an
EEZ observation post for the Maritime Bureau of the
Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, being
equipped with radar and various other sensors to help monitor activity
in the zone.
On March 16, 2007, a light beacon was installed by the
Guard. The beacon is plotted on the hydrographic chart.
Geologically, the islets are a coral atoll, built on the Kyushu-Palau
Ridge, the westernmost part of the
Izu-Bonin-Mariana Arc System. The
name "Parece Vela" has been given to the extinct back-arc basin that
lies immediately to the east (the northern half of this back-arc basin
is known as the Shikoku Basin). This back-arc basin was formed by
seafloor spreading between the late
Oligocene and Miocene. The
Parece Vela Basin
Parece Vela Basin contains the longest megamullion in the world. The
original Spanish name of the islets is normally used for the
geological formations, hence, Parece Vela megamullion, Parece Vela
ridge, Parece Vela rift or Parece Vela basin.
The waters around the reefs are potentially rich in oil and other
mineral and fisheries resources and it lies in an area of potential
military significance. At high tide, one area of the reefs is 1.58
square meters (17.0 sq ft), roughly the size of a twin bed,
and pokes just 7.4 centimetres (2.9 in) out of the ocean. The
other is 7.86 square metres (84.6 sq ft), the size of a
small bedroom, and rises 16 centimetres (6.3 in), about twice as
high. The entire reef consists of approximately 7.8 square kilometers
(3.0 sq mi), most of which is submerged even at low tide.
The area has three tiny individual islets:
Higashi-Kojima (東小島, "Eastern Islet")
Kita-Kojima (北小島, "Northern Islet"), nevertheless rather in the
Minami-Kojima (南小島, "Southern Islet")
Minami-Kojima is a completely artificial islet created in shallow
water. But also the two original islets appear completely artificial
today, with little if any trace of the two natural rocks that still
appear on photographs of 1987. In 1925, there were still five
above-water rocks, which have eroded since. A report from 1947
mentions five above-water rocks. Three smaller ones were on the west
side, nearly impossible to see from seaward because of the breaking
waves. The larger rocks on the southwest side and on the northeast
side, possibly Kita-Kojima and Higashi-Kojima, were reported to be 0.6
and 0.4 m (24 and 16 in) high, respectively. The original
rocks appeared barren, obviously without any terrestrial vegetation.
The current artificial dry land areas with their concrete surfaces
appear unfit to support terrestrial vegetation either.
After concrete encasing, each of the islets appears as a circle with a
diameter of 60 meters (196 ft) on detailed satellite images,
which would correspond to a land area—albeit mostly artificial—of
2,827 m2 (0.699 acres) per islet, or 8,482 m2 (2.096 acres)
in total. In addition, there is a platform on stilts in the shallow
part of the lagoon 140 metres (460 ft) east-northeast of the
southern islet, built by the
Japan Marine Science and Technology
Center in 1988, which appears as a rectangle of 100 by 50 m (330
by 160 ft). The platform has a helicopter landing pad and a large
three-story building with a marine investigation facility and a
The rocks are in the western part of a lagoon surrounded by a
submerged coral reef, over which the waves break, and that extends
4.5 km (2.8 mi) east-west and 1.7 km (1.1 mi)
north-south, with an area of roughly 5 km² within the rim of the
reef. The lagoon is 3 to 4.6 meters deep, but there are numerous coral
heads of lesser depths throughout the area. The fringing reef of the
atoll is pear-shaped in an east-west direction with its greatest width
at the eastern end. There is a small boat channel into the lagoon in
the southwest, about 15 meters (49 ft) wide and 6 meters
(20 ft) deep, 250 meters (820 ft) southeast of the
Administratively, the island is considered part of Ogasawara village,
Tokyo. In 1939, the construction of a Naval Base was started by
Japan, but suspended in 1941, at the start of the World War II
hostilities in the Pacific.
Typhoons are constant threats to Okinotori's existence. In the 1970s
there were about five or six visible protrusions, but by 1989, only
two were visible.
In order to prevent the island from submersion caused by erosion and
maintain its claim to the EEZ, the
Japanese government launched an
embankment building project in 1987, and Higashikojima and Kitakojima
were surrounded by concrete.
Japan has encased the reefs with
$280 million worth of concrete and covered the smaller one with a
$50 million titanium net to shield it from debris thrown up by
the ocean's waves. The
Japanese government has spent over
$600 million fortifying the reefs to prevent them from being
completely washed away.
Nippon Foundation has drawn plans to build a
lighthouse and increase the size of the reef by breeding
microorganisms known as foraminifera. Creating land using the
microorganisms could take decades to a century before the island is
large enough to be useful.
Japan carries out maritime research and observation of the
area, as well as repair work on the embankment.
In 2005, the government installed a radar system (at the cost of ¥
330 million), repaired a heliport, and placed an official address
plaque saying, "1 Okinotori Island, Ogasawara Village, Tokyo" in
Japanese. Fishing expeditions also support the claim of economic
Shintaro Ishihara has talked of building a power
station, despite protests by environmentalists. His government has
helped fund expeditions to Okinotori by Japanese fishermen and
scientists. Governor Ishihara himself toured the islands on May 20,
2005 to inspect the conservation and management efforts, went
snorkeling to see firsthand the condition of the surrounding waters,
and released Japanese horse mackerel fry to show support for the local
fishing industry. The islands are an intermittent rallying point
for Japanese nationalists, and, as such, a hot-button political issue
On 22 April 2004, Chinese diplomats stated during bilateral talks with
Japan that they regarded
Okinotorishima as an atoll, not an islet, and
did not acknowledge Japan's claim to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ)
stemming from Okinotorishima.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, an island
is "a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is
above water at high tide". It states that "rocks which cannot sustain
human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive
Japan signed the Convention in 1983; the Convention
came into force in 1994–1996 for Japan.
Japan claims an
EEZ over 400,000 square km (154,500 square miles)
around Okinotorishima. China and
South Korea dispute this claim in
their addenda to the CLCS, saying the area only consists of rocks and
not islands. Though neither China nor
South Korea have
territorial claims regarding Okinotorishima, but foreign policy
analysts speculated that it wants to "investigate the surrounding
seabed for submarine operations in case of military conflict involving
Republic of China
Republic of China (Taiwan)."
Japan claims that rock is not
defined in the Convention. Besides, the construction of port,
lighthouse and power station may be used as a counterargument for
PRC's claim regarding "sustain human habitation or economic life".
The territory lies at a militarily strategic point, midway between
Taiwan and Guam, the latter where
U.S. forces are based. Vessels of
the PRC are believed to have been mapping the ocean's bottom over
which U.S. warships might pass on their way to Taiwan. The PRC
conducted four maritime surveys near the Okinotori coral reefs in
2001, two in 2002, and one in 2003. However, the number of such
incidents rose to four in 2004. These incidents have drawn protests
Jon Van Dyke, a law professor, has suggested that the situation is
similar to the failed British attempt to claim an
EEZ around Rockall,
an uninhabited granite outcropping in the Atlantic Ocean. The UK
eventually dropped its claim in the 1990s when other countries
objected. Dr. Dyke has further asserted that it is impossible to make
"a plausible claim that
Okinotorishima should be able to generate a
200 [nautical]-mile zone". Tadao Kuribayashi, another law
professor, disagrees, arguing in part that rocks and reefs differ in
composition and structure, and that the intent of the provision was
geared toward the former.
In 2016, Japan's arrest of a Taiwanese fishing ship's crew led Taiwan
to protest against Japan's claim of island status for Okinotori and by
extension the EEZ.
Foreign relations of Japan: Disputed territories
Territorial disputes of Japan
Extreme points of Japan
Scarborough Shoal –
Johnson South Reef
Johnson South Reef –
Mischief Reef –
^ a b Viajeros Celtíberos ignorados, archived from the original on 17
September 2010, retrieved 11 May 2012
^ a b c d e f g h i j k Yukie Yoshikawa. 2005. "Okinotorishima: Just
the Tip of the Iceberg". Harvard Asian Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 4.
United States Department of State. 1969. "
United States Treaties and
Other International Agreements VOLUME 19 IN SIX PARTS Part 4 1968"
^ a b MINETOSHI, IPPEI (1 February 2016), "
Japan to renovate remote
observation post to retain claim over EEZ", The Asahi Shimbun,
retrieved 1 February 2016
^ a b Oceanic core complexes along the Parece Vela
archived from the original (PDF) on 20 February 2012, retrieved May 4,
^ "Anomalous Topography in the Parece Vela Basin.", Report of
Hydrographic Researches, 37: 9–18, 2001, retrieved 4 May 2012
^ Salisbury, Matthew H., Gigamullion Drilling in the Philippine Sea
(PDF), retrieved 6 May 2012
^ Ohara, Yasuhiko; Fujioka, Kantaro; Teruaki, Ishii; Yurimoto,
Yurimoto (2003), "Peridotites and gabbros from the Parece Vela backarc
basin: Unique tectonic window in an extinct backarc spreading ridge",
Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems, 4 (4): 8611,
Bibcode:2003GGG.....4.8611O, doi:10.1029/2002gc000469, retrieved 6 May
^ Onishi, Norimitsu. "
Japan and China Dispute a Pacific Islet," The
New York Times. July 10, 2005.
^ a b c d Martin Fackler. 2005, February 16. "A Reef or a Rock?
Japan in a Hard Place To Claim Disputed Waters, Charity
Tries to Find Use For Okinotori Shima" The Wall Street Journal. p. A1.
^ McCurry, Justin (2016-02-03). "
Japan to spend millions on tiny
islands 1,000 miles south of Tokyo". The Guardian.
ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-04-27.
^ Martin Fackler. 2005, February 20. "Japan's ultranationalists: Stuck
between a rock and a hard sell"
^ Xinhua. 2005, August 25. "
Japan hopes to build lighthouse on atoll
disputed with China."
^ "Beijing is getting a bad rap in South China Sea disputes". Japan
^ Campion, Gilles, (AFP-JiJi), "Remote rocks at center of dispute",
Japan Times, March 13, 2010, p. 3.
^ Yukie YOSHIKAWA. 2007, October 11. "The US-Japan-China Mistrust
Spiral and Okinotorishima".
^ "An islet the size of your bedroom has
Los Angeles Times.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Okinotorishima.
Page with overhead photograph of the entire atoll
report about appearance in 1947 (under the name Parece Vela/Douglas
close-up photo of Higashikojima (東小島, "Eastern Islet")
page with photograph of platform
Italian page with history in English and oblique aerial photograph of
Okinotori from southwest
detailed satellite images
Tokyo governor stirs reef dispute
Treaty of San Francisco
Japan and the
United States of America Concerning
Nanpo Shoto and Other Islands (1968)
United States Treaties and Other International Agreements VOLUME 19
IN SIX PARTS Part 4 1968" P.4895-