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Media Advisory, December 1, 2009

Contact: Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 986-2600

Wednesday, December 2 Public Meeting in Honolulu to Focus on Threat to Okinawa Dugong
From Controversial U.S. Marine Corps Base Expansion in Japan

WHAT: A presentation to the Marine Mammal Commission, open to the public, on the status of the highly endangered Okinawa population of the dugong and the U.S military plan to expand an existing airbase by filling in some of the best remaining ocean habitat of the dugong in Okinawa.

WHO: Speakers will include Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity in California; Takuma Higashionna, city councilmember and ecotourism guide of Nago City in Okinawa, Japan; and Hideki Yoshikawa, international director of the Save the Dugong Campaign Center in Tokyo.

WHEN: Wednesday, December 2nd at 4:00 p.m.

WHERE:  Hilton Waikiki Prince Kuhio, 2500 Kuhio Avenue, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Background on the Okinawa Dugong Controversy:

In January 2008, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel issued a ruling (in Okinawa Dugong v. Gates, N.D.Cal., C-03-4350) finding the Department of Defense in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act and requiring the Department to consider and avoid impacts of a new airbase on the endangered Okinawa dugong. The lawsuit, which was originally filed in federal court in 2003, is still ongoing, and the U.S. government is currently considering cancelling the base expansion plan, which would destroy the best remaining habitat for the Okinawa dugong (a relative of the manatee also known as the saltwater manatee or seacow). 

Okinawa has been called the “Galápagos of the East” because of its incredibly rich biological diversity, and the dugong is a cultural icon of the Okinawan people. Conservationists are calling for the United States to cancel the base construction plans off the northeast coast of Okinawa in order to protect the dugong and the rich marine life in the area.

Said Peter Galvin, conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity: “The Camp Schwab base expansion project would destroy some of the best remaining habitat for the highly endangered Okinawa dugong, which one of the rarest marine mammal populations in the world. We call on President Obama to cancel this ecologically disastrous base-expansion plan.”

“For Okinawans, the dugong compares only to the American bald eagle in terms of cultural and historical significance,” said Takuma Higashionna, a city councilmember from Nago City, Japan. “The myth of the mermaid comes from sailors who saw the dugong. Historically, Okinawans believe the dugong to be a friendly harbinger of sea disasters such as tsunamis.”

The waters off Okinawa are the northernmost home of the dugong. The species was listed by the government of Japan since 1972 as a “natural monument” under Japan’s Cultural Properties Protection Law. Since 1955, the dugong has also been protected as a cultural monument by the autonomous Ryukyu Prefecture due largely to its status as a revered and sacred animal among native Okinawans. It is also protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 240,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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