Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 19, 2019

Contacts:  Patrick Sullivan, (415) 517-9364, 

House Armed Services Urged to Halt Airbase Construction to Save Okinawa Dugongs

WASHINGTON— More than a dozen American conservation and animal protection groups today urged the House Armed Services Committee to push for a temporary halt to construction of a U.S. military base in Japan that could wipe out the Okinawa dugong, one of earth’s most endangered marine mammals. Okinawa voters recently approved a measure opposing the airbase.

Today’s letter to committee chairman Adam Smith and ranking member Mac Thornberry notes that the proposed U.S. airbase in Okinawa will destroy two ecologically rich bays crucial to the dugong’s survival. The Department of Defense is being sued for failing to comply with U.S. environmental laws requiring a thorough evaluation of the project’s threat to the Okinawa dugong, a critically endangered manatee relative.

“Our own natural heritage is at risk when we destroy sensitive ocean habitats and endangered species. We would not condone such activities at home, nor should we condone them abroad,” states the letter from the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Animal Welfare Institute, and 10 other nonprofit organizations.

“Wiping out these gentle animals to build this controversial base would deeply stain America’s international reputation,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Center’s oceans program. “The House Armed Services Committee should push the Pentagon to halt this reckless construction and thoroughly evaluate the project’s threat to dugongs and Okinawan culture.”

The ongoing construction ignores a democratic referendum last month in which an overwhelming majority of Okinawa voters opposed the base construction. The base construction is also opposed by Okinawa’s new governor, Denny Tamaki, who has strongly urged Japan’s Defense Ministry to stop work on the project.

Building the base will involve filling in and paving over hundreds of acres of rich coral and seagrass habitat crucial to the handful of surviving Okinawa dugongs. 

The Center, other organizations and residents of Okinawa recently filed the opening brief in an appeal of a court ruling allowing construction of the base. The brief, filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, highlighted the base’s threat to the dugong. The 9th Circuit ruled in 2017 that Okinawa residents deserved a full hearing on their concerns.

Dugongs have long been revered by native Okinawans. The dugong is listed as an object of national cultural significance under Japanese law. Under the U.S. National Historic Preservation Act and international law, the United States must avoid or mitigate harm to places or things of cultural significance to another country. 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

More press releases