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Volcanic Nishinoshima Island teeming with life: ministry report

Young masked boobies are seen on the volcanic island of Nishinoshima on Oct. 20, 2016. (Photo courtesy of the Ministry of the Environment)

Migrant birds and surviving plants are among the life on Nishinoshima, a new volcanic island in the Ogasawara island chain about 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo, the Ministry of the Environment announced on Oct. 25.

The ministry released the results of a field survey conducted by a group of researchers who explored the some 269-hectare island, where most animals and plants were lost to volcanic eruptions. The survey found that seabirds are breeding while some plants have survived the eruptions, raising the possibility that its ecosystem would be restored in the future.

According to Tomoki Chida, an Environment Ministry expert in World Natural Heritage sites, birds spotted on the island included bramblings, a type of migrant bird, seabirds called masked boobies with some chicks, as well as white wagtails, which are commonly seen in urban areas.

Among the surviving flora were Indian goosegrass, barnyard grass and common purslane. Other creatures included dragonflies, earwigs and moth larvae.

The research team comprised members from the University of Tokyo's Earthquake Research Institute, and the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute. They landed on the island on Oct. 20 and examined its western area, which was spared from lava flows. The researchers set up seismometers to study volcanic activity and collected lava rocks.

Nishinoshima is about 130 kilometers from its closest neighbor, Chichijima Island. Because the island is isolated and uninhabited by people, experts are interested in how its ecosystem will develop in the future.

"The ecosystem, once made very poor, is on the path to recovery. I surmise birds will play a key role, such as carrying plant seeds to the island," Chida said.

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