A cap of 1,200 visitors per day is to be introduced on an island in Japan's southern prefecture of Okinawa as part of a drive to prevent "overtourism" disrupting residents' way of life and the local ecosystem, according to the prefectural government.

Starting in April, the Okinawa prefectural government will aim to cap total annual visits to Iriomote Island at 330,000 people. The island, dubbed the "Galapagos of the East" by local authorities, is popular for its natural beauty and for having a distinctive species of wildcat only found on the island.

File photo shows tourists kayaking around a mangrove forest on Iriomote Island, Okinawa Prefecture in October 2021. (Kyodo)

The measures, though, will not be compulsory for the time being, with relevant parties only being urged to cooperate with the cap.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the island, which has around 2,400 inhabitants, was seeing about 300,000 visitors each year. This has resulted in issues caused by tourism such as water shortages and traffic accidents involving the endangered Iriomote wildcats.

In 2008, the population of the wildcats was estimated to be on a downward trend with only about 100 living on the island, according to data from the Iriomote Wildlife Conservation Center.

According to the prefectural government, it will also limit visitor numbers in five natural World Heritage sites including where there are endangered species. Controls will vary from 30 to 200 people per day, and the government will also urge them to enter with a guide.

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