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For Immediate Release, December 3, 2009

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

More Than 400 Conservation, Animal Protection, Peace and Justice Groups Plead With
President Obama to Commute Okinawa Dugong Death Sentence

Letter Calling for Cancellation of Military Base Expansion in
Rare Sea Mammal’s Japanese Habitat Hand-delivered to White House

WASHINGTON— Representatives of conservation, animal protection, and peace and justice groups representing more than 10 million Americans hand-delivered a letter today to the White House and State Department urging President Barack Obama to cancel plans to expand a U.S. military base near Henoko in Okinawa, Japan. The base expansion would destroy the prime feeding ground of the few manatee-like Okinawa dugong remaining in the world (believed to number about 50). The plan to expand the base – Camp Schwab, in northeast Okinawa – calls for filling in parts of Oura Bay and the surrounding area. The 1.5-mile-long airbase would also permanently disrupt one of the most biologically diverse areas in the Pacific.

Okinawa has been called the “Galápagos of the East” because of its rich and unique biological diversity. The Henoko area provides important habitat for numerous rare wildlife species in addition to the dugong – an endangered marine mammal related to the manatee and a cultural icon in Japan – and three species of endangered sea turtles.

The U.S. government recently announced that it would reconsider the base expansion plan in light of the massive local opposition to the project.

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

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 was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and partner groups on both sides of the Pacific in federal court in 2003, and is still ongoing.

“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 waters off Okinawa are the northernmost home of the dugong. 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. Since 1972, the species has also been listed by Japan’s federal government as a “natural monument” under the country’s Cultural Properties Protection Law. It is also protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

In addition to being hand-delivered to the White House and State Department by Center attorney Bill Snape, the letter was also emailed, faxed, and mailed this morning to President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other key officials. 

To see a copy of the letter, please click here.

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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