The skeletal remains of what are believed to be Japanese soldiers have been exposed on a remote Pacific island where waves have eroded the sea shore, a Japanese government official said Monday.
The bodies of around 20 men have emerged from the earth at a small coastal cemetery because of the action of the ocean on the Marshall Islands, a place scientists have long warned is vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by climate change.
"The government of the Marshall Islands has informed us that remains of about 20 human bodies have been exposed on the seashore of Enniburr island," said a Japanese official, referring to one of the small islands that forms part of the Pacific nation.
"The remains, believed to be those of Japanese soldiers, surfaced after waves eroded a cemetery built on the seashore, according to the Marshall Islands government," he said.
The Marshall Islands, like other Pacific island nations, are increasingly being threatened by rising sea levels, which have left previously safe parts of the shore at risk from erosion.
"If they are remains of Japanese soldiers, it would be a rare case of waves eroding the seashore to expose them," the official added.
Japan has for decades been trying to retrieve the remains of millions of Japanese nationals -- including soldiers -- scattered throughout the Asia-Pacific, swathes of which were controlled by the Japanese military until the later years of World War II.
Japan controlled the Marshall Islands from 1914 until the final stages of the war, when they were taken by the United States.
The island country, made of more than two dozen atolls, became independent in 1986, but part of it -- Kwajalein Atoll, where Enniburr island also sits -- remains under the control of the U.S. military, the Japanese official said.
"Japan will probably send a research team for the exposed human remains, but no concrete plan has been made yet since it is under the management of the U.S. military," he said.