After a powerful earthquake and tsunami struck Eastern Japan four years ago, the ocean near Minamisanrikucho, a town on Honshu Island, completely lost its color. However, in the years since, life and color has slowly returned.
Underwater photographer Nagaaki Sato has documented the waters near Minamisanrikucho since the 2011 disaster, and his photos of the changes are absolutely startling.
Right after the earthquake, debris washed into the ocean off Minamisanriku, destroying local life (2011; Photo Nagaaki Sato)
Sato ran a diving shop in Minamisanriku before the tsunami. His store was washed away by the massive wave but he has since opened a new diving shop in Hakodate, Hokkaido. “Four years have gone by, and nature is putting forth great efforts to replenish and regrow. There is a lot of energy being expended in these waters. As one of the humans who survived the disaster, I want to involve myself with the ocean from now on and continue photographing it so that I can show its wonders to as many people as possible,” Sato told HuffPost.
Seaweed that has regained its vibrant color (2012; Photo Nagaaki Sato)
The earthquake and tsunami destroyed not only the coast of Eastern Japan, but also the ecosystem of the surrounding ocean. Debris washing into the ocean, coupled with the destructive force of the tsunami itself, stripped the coastal areas of Eastern Japan of a significant proportion of marine life.
Bu Sato says ocean life is visibly replenishing. "Scaly worm shells and oysters, hoek, sea pineapples, and other creatures that cling to rock faces are increasing in number. It has become easy to find akiginpo (chirolophis saitone), chaenopsid blennies, spiny cockscomb, himefutasujikajika (Icelinus pietschi), and eyeshade sculpins, which might mean their population is expanding at the same rate as before the tsunami again.”
Sato was particularly moved recently to witness the breeding of sea squirts. Sea pineapples, a type of hermaphroditic squirt, release eggs and sperm into the water at the same time. Capturing this event on film is a very rare occurrence.
Sea pineapples mating (Nagaaki Sato)
Although the number of varieties of life that can now be seen in the water have increased, it is still only at around 40 to 50 percent of what it was before the tsunami.
Spiny Pacific lumpsucker (Nagaaki Sato)
Take a look at more of Sato's photos:
This article was originally published on HuffPost Japan and was translated into English.