Greenpeace Investigation Reveals Extensive Dugong Feeding Troughs Near Planned U.S. Military Base in Okinawa

by Perry Wheeler

November 5, 2015

Washington, DC – Greenpeace Japan today released new evidence from underwater investigations revealing extensive dugong feeding troughs in seagrass beds just two miles from a planned U.S. military base in Oura Bay, Okinawa. The dugong, an extremely rare marine mammal related to the manatee, is threatened by the construction of airstrips for the base.

The investigation also found that large concrete blocks had flattened coral reefs around the exclusion zone.

“Japan says it is committed to peace and democracy, but the Japanese government’s total failure to resolve the situation in Oura Bay is a brazen attack on the democratic wishes of Okinawans,” said Junichi Sato, Executive Director of Greenpeace Japan. “Building a new military airstrip on the habitat of the last few dugongs is symbolic of military power bulldozing over local and natural values.”

Japanese authorities refused permits for Greenpeace’s ship the Rainbow Warrior to join activists protesting against the construction of the airstrips. The bay itself is home to 5,300 species, 262 of which are endangered, including the loggerhead turtle, clown fish, and the Japanese dugong. The region is home to the largest seagrass bed in Okinawa, on which the dugong feed.

“If these rare feeding troughs can be located just a couple of miles from Oura Bay, then one can only imagine how critical the seagrass bed near the military base is to the dugong’s existence. The bay’s rich ecosystem risks collapse unless the government immediately halts construction, and establishes a marine reserve to protect Okinawa’s natural heritage,” said Kazue Komatsubara.

Okinawans bear the brunt of the U.S. military presence in Japan, and have been protesting for the past 19 years. Currently, 80% of locals are against the construction of the base in Oura Bay, and the local governor, who was elected on a wave of opposition to the base, has attempted to block the construction through an appeals process.

However, his efforts to stop the construction have been overruled by the central Japanese government, sparking heated protests at the gate of the military base with locals – many of them elderly – putting their bodies in the lines of the bulldozers.

“In 2005 and 2007, Greenpeace’s ships were given permission to go to Oura Bay. It appears that this time, the Central government is deliberately slowing down this process in order to prevent us from standing with locals and bearing witness to the destruction of the bay,” said Captain Mike Fincken of the Rainbow Warrior.

Greenpeace Japan began the process of acquiring permission to visit Henoko/Oura Bay on October 28, but authorities yesterday refused permission. While Greenpeace Japan prepares paperwork to challenge the decision, it expects the authorities to decide soon on another application to sail to Nago. The Rainbow Warrior is in Okinawa on the invitation of local politicians and activists and has been docked in Naha, the capital of Okinawa, since November 1.

Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar added: “Few American taxpayers would be happy to know that they are funding construction of a military base in Japan that will damage a coral reef and jeopardize the survival of the dugong, an endangered relative of the manatee. This project should be halted immediately.”

Notes to editors

Photos of the underwater investigation, military base protests and Greenpeace ship: http://photo.greenpeace.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&ALID=27MZIFJ679F_O&IT=Thumb_FixedHeight_M_Details_NoToolTip

Video of the underwater investigation and military base protests: http://photo.greenpeace.org/collection/27MZIFJ6796_K

Media contacts

Komatsubara Kazue, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace Japan, tel: 080-3002-5502 email: kazue.komatsubara@greenpeace.org

Akiko Tsuchiya, Communications Officer, Greenpeace Japan, tel: 080-3930-3342 email: akiko.tsuchiya@greenpeace.org

Perry Wheeler, Greenpeace USA Media Officer, tel: 301-675-8766 email: perry.wheeler@greenpeace.org

Perry Wheeler

By Perry Wheeler

Perry Wheeler is a senior communications specialist at Greenpeace USA.

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