Chichijima (Ogasawara) by Night: Stargazing, the Legendary Green Pepe and Releasing Baby Turtles Into the Sea
The thing about remote islands (such as the Galapagos or Ogasawara, also known as the Bonin Islands), is that they harbor unique and unusual wildlife. Because they are so far from any other land mass, local species have evolved separately from their mainland cousins and developed unique adaptations to their environment. I had two nights at Chichijima, so I booked two night tours: one for stargazing and one to see the island’s nocturnal wildlife. This was the very first thing I did when I got to the island. The shop (Take Nature Academy) is located on the main road, on the way between Futami port and most guesthouses, on the right-hand side. I had read that they spoke English, but that was actually not the case. However, I still managed to book and have a great time. An open mind and some interpretative dance can get you a long way!
Gazing At the Stars
The guide picked me up from my hotel and drove me up the mountain to get to the viewing spot (turns out I was the only guest that night, so I had a personalized tour). Somehow, I managed to tell him I was interested in science, so we did a brief stop at the very impressive radio telescope Vera. After an introduction to the stars and constellations in sight, we set up some foldable beds for stargazing, as well as a very nice telescope and the camera. The sky was a bit cloudy (clouds kept creeping into our field of view, so they made it into the pictures too), so there was a lot of waiting for the clouds to move out of the way. They weren't moving fast though, so we kept finding things to observe on the clear bits and then turning the telescope to a different direction when the clouds would catch up with us. We managed to see plenty of stars and I got a few shots of the Milky Way with my camera.
The Unique Wildlife of Ogasawara
The next night we went on a quest to find and observe some rare wildlife. We were lucky enough that on that night the marine centre happened to be releasing lots of baby turtles into the ocean, and they let us take part. The Ogasawara marine centre (which you can visit) is run by a non-profit organization called Everlasting Nature and they breed and survey turtles in order to protect them. They also survey humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). It is located south of Omura.
If you are on the island between June and August, you may be able to spot green turtles (Chelonia mydas) coming to land to lay their eggs. I went in the end of September, so they had already hatched and it was time to release the little ones back into the wild from one of the beaches on the northeast part of the island. Since the sky was clear (much clearer than the previous night!) and there was no artificial light (a requirement for the turtles to find their way into the ocean), as an extra, the guide took out his powerful laser pointer and showed us some constellations. Definitely not something you’d seen in Tokyo!
After making sure the turtles were swimming in the sea, we loaded up into the van to look for other species. The Bonin fruit bat, also known as Bonin flying fox (Pteropus pselaphon), was considered extinct in the 1970s, but a few managed to survive and our guide knew exactly where to find one. After a bit of walking uphill, there it was, hanging upside down, on a mango tree, having some dinner (or breakfast). Some tourists were a bit noisy (I guess they were just excited to see the bat), but that didn’t seem to disturb him at all. He had more important things to do, like munching on his delicious treat.
The tour ended with us in the woods looking for the legendary green fluorescent mushrooms (Mycena chlorophos) – which are much smaller than I'd imagined, but still quite amazing. The locals call it Green Pepe. After disappearing for a while, our guide emerged from the dark forest carrying a piece of wood. Upon closer inspection, in total darkness, there they were! We could see green light coming out of these teeny tiny mushrooms! Very cool!
I don’t have a lot of pictures of these tours, as it was dark and we were busy enjoying the privilege of experiencing such rare sights. I definitely recommend both tours and if you have the right equipment, you may be able to get some really nice and unique shots.
For more information on how to get to Ogasawara and other things to do, check out my other post here.