Center for Biological Diversity

Help Save Okinawa Dugong and Coral Reef Ecosystem

Bookmark and Share

Okinawa is home to ecologically significant coral reefs that support more than 1,000 species of reef fish, marine mammals, and sea turtles. Creatures like the highly imperiled dugong, a critically endangered and culturally treasured animal, rely on these reefs for their survival.

But the U.S. government is planning to build a new American military base atop a healthy coral reef that will likely destroy the diverse array of animal life the reef supports, including at least nine species threatened with extinction. Okinawa's coral reefs are already threatened by global warming and pollution: More than half have disappeared over the past decade. We must protect the reef and its inhabitants.

American, Japanese, and international organizations have spoken out for this critical area and against the potential harm that the new military base would cause. Back in 1997, Japan's Mammalogical Society placed the mighty dugong, a distant relative of the manatee, on its "Red List of Mammals," estimating the population in Okinawa to be critically endangered. Our own Endangered Species Act lists the dugong and three sea turtles affected by the project as endangered or threatened. The U.S. government's Marine Mammals Commission has weighed in with fears that the project would be a serious threat to the dugong and other animals' survival, and the World Conservation Union's dugong specialists have expressed similar concerns.

Construction of the offshore facility will devastate the marine environment and have dramatic consequences for oceangoing birds and coastal species as well. In addition to destruction of the coral reef off the coast of Henoko village, the planned base will deplete essential freshwater supplies, increase the human population in sensitive areas, and encourage more environmentally harmful development -- causing irreversible ecological damage to one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. The U.S. government must abandon this plan.

Environmental groups from both sides of the Pacific Ocean -- the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network in the United States and Dugong Network Okinawa, Save the Dugong Foundation, Committee Against Heliport Construction/Save Life Society, and the Japan Environmental Lawyers Federation in Japan -- have filed a lawsuit in federal district court in San Francisco against the U.S. Department of Defense to stop the base. While early success in the case stalled the project for several years, the Center and its allies are now back in court fighting to end to the construction.

We need your help to speak out. Please take a minute to send the letter below to President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Ambassador to Japan John Roos.

Your letter will be sent to the following recipient(s):

President Barack Obama

Phone:(202) 456-1111
Fax:(202) 456-2461

Secretary Chuck Hagel

U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

John Kerry, Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

John V. Roos

U.S. Ambassador to Japan
Unit 9800 Box 300 APO AP

*Fields marked with an asterisk are required. If you live outside of the U.S. or Canada, enter "other" for state/province.

Dugong photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Julien Willem.

Okinawa Dugong

The dugong is a saltwater manatee that has deep cultural significance to Okinawan people. Only about 50 dugongs are thought to remain in Japanese waters.

Coral reefs are essential habitat for the dugong. In Japan, the primary remaining dugong habitat exists off the northeastern coast of Okinawa -- precisely where base construction will take place. Dugongs use seagrass beds in the area to feed, mate, and rear their young.

Construction will crush this critical habitat for the dugong. The Nature Conservation Society of Japan has called the proposed base the "greatest threat" to local seagrass beds. Even if the seagrass doesn't die off completely, construction will eliminate feeding trails that are essential for dugong. A study by the Japan Scientists Association found that destruction of the coral reef and seagrass beds "is inescapable at the planned site of the base."

Both Japan's Environment Ministry and the U.S. Defense Facilities Administration Agency conducted surveys that found dugong off the coast of Nago, directly in the project area, and aerial surveys have documented dugongs in Oura Bay.

Sea Turtles

Three imperiled species of sea turtles -- the hawksbill, loggerhead, and green -- rely on habitat in the Henoko area. All three types of turtles are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the global Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Sea turtles use nearby beaches to feed and lay their eggs. The new base will cause pollution, create harmful artificial lighting in the area, and increase human activity -- all of which are harmful to turtle reproduction.

Forests and Birds

The new base will require a constant supply of freshwater from the Yanbaru forest ecosystem -- and not just for drinking. Because military aircraft will be exposed to salt water, they must be washed with freshwater every day to avoid corrosion.

Already, the ecologically significant Yanbaru forest suffers from numerous dam projects. Drawing more water from this sensitive area will imperil endangered bird species that rely on the forest for habitat, such as the Okinawa woodpecker and the Okinawa rail. The Okinawa woodpecker is the official bird of the prefecture, and under grave threat.

Threatened mangrove trees will be at risk, too. Twelve stands of mangrove may come under direct threat from pollution created by the new base, including some classified as protected areas by the Japanese government.