February 4, 2014 - Southern Ryukyu Islands, Japan
Just northeast of Taiwan a string of coral-ringed islands grace the deep blue ocean. Known as the southern Ryukyu Islands, they are part of an arching archipelago that stretches about 700 miles (1,100 km) from the southern Japanese Island of Kyushu to northeastern Taiwan, and separates the East China Sea (to the west) from the Philippine Sea (east).
The Ryukyu Island chain is made up of over 100 islands and islets, most of which are made up of rugged, but relatively low hills of 2,000 ft (610 m) or less. Although flat agricultural land is rare, sugarcane and pineapples are important crops in the southern Ryukyus.
On January 30, 2014 the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite captured a true-color image of the southern Ryukyu Islands. The largest, nearly square-shaped island in the southwest is Iriomote Island. Remote and approximately 90% sub-tropical rainforest, this island has diverse and often unique flora and fauna, including the Iriomote Yamaneko, or Iriomote Wild Cat, of which only 100 are said to survive in the wild.
To the northeast lies the island of Ishigaki, well known for scuba, snorkeling, beaches and corals. The circular island further northeast is Tarama, once a penal colony for the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom.
Finally, the larger, V shaped island is Miyako Island, the largest and most populated of the southern Ryukyu Islands. About 52,000 people call this 250 sq km (96.5 sq mi) island home, and enjoy the 100 sq km (38.6 sq mi) of coastline and white sand beaches. Tourism and agriculture make up the primary income of the island, with an estimated 400,000 visitors annually. In 2008, Miyakojima city declared the Island an Eco-Island, including in the formal declaration their intent to “… think and act together with the peoples of the world to preserve and protect our environment and pass it on to future generations.”