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Okinawa starts removing pumice stones after volcanic eruption

Okinawa authorities started removing a massive amount of pumice stones from the coast of the main island Friday that drifted ashore following an underwater volcanic eruption earlier this year, disrupting fishing and tourism.

The removal started at the fishing port of Hentona in Kunigami, a village located in the northern part of Okinawa, with a prefectural government official saying the “unprecedented” operation could take two to three weeks to complete.

The port has been swamped by the floating pumice stones, making it difficult for fishermen to set out to sea. Two shovel loaders were seen scooping up the stones, which gave the sea’s surface a gray appearance as if cement had been poured into the water.

For areas that cannot be reached by such vehicles, the authorities plan to use a boat and put up a fence-like structure to prevent the pollution from spreading further.

“We have no choice but to proceed with the cleanup work by trial and error,” the official said. “We will think about how to dispose of the pumice stones after checking safety aspects.”

Other coastal areas in the north have also been affected and the official said the Okinawa Prefectural Government plans to carry out similar removal operations at other fishing ports.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was campaigning for this weekend’s general election in Kagoshima on Friday, said he had set up a response team to handle recovery efforts and provide financial support to local fishermen.

“Seeing as the pumice on the sea surface could spread to a wide area of Japan, we will continue to deal with the matter carefully,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki told a news conference in Tokyo.

Isozaki said the pumice had washed up at 16 fishing ports in Okinawa and Kagoshima with 40 boats damaged, six of which can no longer sail.

The pumice stones are believed to have originated from the Fukutoku-Okanoba underwater volcano, located more than 1,000 kilometers away.

The eruption in August of the volcano located in the Ogasawara island chain in the Pacific Ocean was so powerful that it resulted in the formation of a C-shaped island near Iwoto Island, which is around 1,200 km south of Tokyo.

Since then, pumice stones have also washed ashore in the Amami island chain in Kagoshima Prefecture.

Estimates show that the pumice stones may reach the Kanto eastern Japan region around the end of November.

In Kanto, the stones are likely to reach the eastern coast of Chiba Prefecture, a Tokyo neighbor, and some other places around that time, carried by the Kuroshio current running along the southern side of the Japanese archipelago, according to the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, or JAMSTEC.

But JAMSTEC is unsure how much pumice may reach Kanto coasts because some stones are expected to sink and others to disperse.

JAMSTEC senior researcher Toru Miyama used forecasting models to estimate how the stones would spread from the volcano by traveling on ocean currents.

The estimates showed that the stones would begin to arrive near Okinawa’s main island by early October and then travel north on the Kuroshio current to reach the southern shore of Kochi Prefecture, western Japan, around early November.

After drifting away from Honshu, the country’s main island, off the Kii Peninsula, the stones are forecast to approach Honshu again and travel east along the coastline of Aichi and Shizuoka prefectures in central Japan toward late November before arriving near Kanto, according to the estimates.

Miyama expressed hope that the results will be used to understand how the pumice stones may spread and when they may reach specific locations so that effective measures to deal with the stones will be prepared.

Smoke from the eruption reached a height of 16-19 kilometers from the ocean surface, according to the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, known as AIST, and other sources.

The eruption was biggest in Japan since the 1914 eruption of the Sakurajima volcano in Kagoshima Prefecture, the sources said, adding that both are among the biggest eruptions in the country since the Meiji period, which began in 1868.

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