Just like the disappearance of Hawaii’s East Island during hurricane Walaka in 2018, a tiny stretch of uninhabited land in northeastern Japan also vanished without a trace.
Esanbe Hanakita Kojima was one of 158 uninhabited islands named by the Japanese government in 2014 in an effort to enlarge its exclusive fishing zone. These islands gained certain political importance when Japanbattled it out with China and Russia to claim a greater swath of territorial waters. And after taking control of them, Japan managed to push back the limits of its economic zone.
A writer notices something’s missing
Esanbe was located a few kilometres from the village of Sarufutsu on the northern tip of Hokkaido. The inhabitants were informed of Esanbe’s vanishing by writer Hiroshi Shimizu, a specialist in hidden Japanese islands, who was performing research for a new book on the subject. Shimizu contacted the local fishing cooperative, which sent boats to the place where the island should have been…only to find nothing there.
The Japanese coast guards reported that the last time Esanbe was indexed in 1987, it measured a little over four and a half feet above sea level. But local fishermen avoided the area due to an underwater reef there that could prove dangerous to boats.
Victim of wind and ice floes
Experts believe that the island fell victim to erosion by wind and ice floes. The Okhotsk sea that borders northern Japan releases huge blocks of ice every year that drift to the Japanese coasts. Some of these almost certainly damaged the island…to the point of sinking it. A Japanese coastguard confirmed:
It’s not impossible for small islands to be swept away by the elements.
However, theislands are also threatened by more sinister phenomena, such asrising sea levelsdue to climate change, even if this region tends to be generally less vulnerable. According to international law, countries can claim an island as part of its territory as long as it is visible at high tide.
In this area, pieces of land also appear
Other than the disappearance of the island itself, Japan also faces other consequences such as the shrinking of its territorial waters. Japan’s exclusive economic zone is now a third of a mile closer to its coast which is a big loss in a region in which every island counts, as Russia is also constantly pushing to increase its territory.
But for Japan, the disappearance wasn’t so terrible. Land in this region might be swallowed by the sea, but it also sometimes rises from it. For example, in 2013 a landslide caused a stretch of earth almost a quarter of a mile long to emerge from the coast, allowing the country to tack a bit more area onto its territorial claims.