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WWF-Japan leader calls for dugong research by halting USMC training exercises

In Okinawa, the governments of Japan and the U.S. are rushing to implement the plan to construct a state-of-the-art air base for the U.S. Marine Corps at the coastal and offshore area of the USMC Camp Schwab, Nago City, to replace the USMC Futenma Air Station in Ginowan City.

The Japanese government has placed the working paper prepared for the environmental impact assessment for public viewing from April 2 through May 1 at five locations in Okinawa Prefecture.

As referred to in the "Roadmap" agreed upon by Japan and the U.S. for implementing the U.S. military realignment in Japan, the two governments are trying to complete the construction of the new base by 2014. However, numerous problems have been arising.

Concerning the government's 5,400-page preliminary assessment, Hanawa Shin'ichi, vice head of the WorldWide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Japan natural conservation office, commented as follows:

The preliminary assessment maintains that the existence of dugong, a marine mammal, was not confirmed off Henoko Cape (where the USMC has Camp Schwab) and that the presence of its habitat was confirmed in the area off Kayo in Nago City, several kilometers north of Henoko.

Based on this, the paper estimates that the construction of the base will not affect their habitat.

However, the area off Henoko is rich in seaweed, the principal item in the diet for Dugong. Why were they not found in this area? The paper explains nothing about this and just wrote that they were not found there.

It is believed that in the preliminary research, divers placed acoustic modules for monitoring dugons on the seaweed beds and that this drove them out of this area because dugongs are very sensitive to sound.

Also, the USMC units have been carrying out landing exercises all year long at the Henoko Cape. This could have also driven them into the shallow sea area.

How can the government conclude that the USMC operation at the new base, if constructed, will not affect the habitat of dugongs?

The government should carry out a proper research of this rare species by suspending the USMC training exercises for a certain period.

The paper's estimate that the number of dugongs could be no more than three is supportable. Indeed, dugongs living in this area could be less than ten in total. (The year-round habitat for the dugong is limited to the east coast of Okinawa's main island.)

Wildlife Dugongs are one of the most endangered species in Japan. Recommendations for their preservation have often been made by the international society.

In January 2008, the U.S. district court in California found (in Okinawa Dugong v. Gates) the Department of Defense (DOD) in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and required DOD to consider impacts of a new airbase on the endangered Okinawa dugong.

It is irrational to push ahead with the new air base project in Okinawa, totally disregarding these domestic and international warnings.

- Akahata, April 19, 2009

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