Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For Immediate Release: September 7, 2004

Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity ( USA) +1-707-986-7805
Martin Wagner, Earthjustice ( USA) +1-510-550-6700
More Information: Dugong Web, Letter to President Bush

International Conservation Groups Call on Bush & Koizumi to Save the Okinawa Dugong

New Airbase Would Destroy Essential Dugong Habitat

(California, USA/Okinawa, Japan) - A coalition of hundreds of US and international conservation groups representing over 10 million people sent a letter today to President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi urging the two leaders to cancel a plan to construct a new air base on top of a coral reef near Henoko, Okinawa, the feeding ground of the last remaining Okinawa Dugong (sea cow). Biologists believe building this landing strip could doom these gentle marine mammals to extinction.

Taken by Mr. Suehiro NITTA, presented by Association to Protect Northernmost Dugong

The plan calls for Japan to build a new military base for American use atop coral reefs--effectively destroying the remaining habitat of the gentle dugong in Japan. The 1.5 mile-long airbase would also permanently disrupt one of the most biologically diverse areas in the Pacific.

The coral reefs in question provide important habitat for numerous rare wildlife species including the endangered dugong, a Japanese cultural icon related to the manatee, and three species of sea turtle. Local residents voted against the airbase project in a referendum, but Japanese and US authorities are ignoring their voices.

A coalition of US and Japanese conservation groups went to court in September 2003 to stop the project. The case is currently being heard in US District Court in San Francisco. The lawsuit asks the US Department of Defense to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) by publicly assessing the impacts of the proposed project on the Okinawa dugong. The NHPA requires US agencies to assess the impacts of their activities on cultural icons of foreign nations. Because of their significance to Okinawan culture, dugongs are included on a Japanese government list of protected cultural properties.

“The Department of Defense has a legal duty to protect the cultural resources and national monuments of other nations, especially our allies,” said Martin Wagner of Earthjustice, who is representing the coalition in the United States. “The Okanawa dugong is a cultural icon and national monument in Japan. This vanishing species deserves the same protection and respect that we give to the Washington Monument or bald eagle.”

The letter sent today was signed more than 400 organizations representing more than ten million concerned citizens worldwide.

“Construction of the new airbase would cause severe ecological damage to one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth,” said Peter Galvin of Center for Biological Diversity who organized the letter campaign. “ For this reason, conservation groups around the world are asking President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to cancel the base construction plan and protect the Okinawa dugong, a creature recognized as a national monument in Japan.”

Letter Sent Below

September 7, 2004

Dear President Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi,

The island of Okinawa has been called the "Galapagos of the East" because of the incredible variety of marine and terrestrial life it supports.

Almost 400 types of coral form Okinawa’s reefs, which support more than 1,000 species of fish, marine mammals and sea turtles.

As two prominent world leaders, you have the power to protect these unique and priceless creatures. Unfortunately, a joint project backed by the United States and Japanese governments will destroy one of the last healthy reefs in Okinawa, pushing many magnificent species closer to extinction.

Current plans call for construction of a new military base at sea, atop a coral reef near Henoko in Okinawa. But the reef that this project would destroy supports numerous highly endangered species - animals protected by American, Japanese and international law. These species include:

  • The critically endangered and culturally treasured dugong, which relies on this habitat for its very survival in Okinawa. Japan's Mammalogical Society placed the dugong on its "Red List of Mammals" in 1997, estimating the population in Okinawa to be critically endangered. The U.S. Government's Marine Mammal Commission also fears the project would pose a serious threat to the animals' survival. The World Conservation Union's dugong specialists have expressed similar concerns and have placed the dugong on their Red List of threatened species.
  • Three types of endangered sea turtle - the hawksbill, loggerhead, and green - also depend on this ecosystem. All of these turtles, as well as the dugong, are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Because of global warming, landfill and pollution, Okinawa's coral reefs, along with coral reefs around the world are already threatened. More than half of Okinawa’s coral reefs have disappeared over the past decade. This makes preserving the healthy reefs that continue to exist all the more important. By canceling the plan to construct the airbase near Henoko, you can help protect a globally important ocean ecosystem and some of the best remaining habitat for Okinawa dugong. We urge you to cancel this destructive project.


Peter Galvin, Conservation Director, Center for Biological Diversity ( USA)

Martin Wagner, International Program Director, Earthjustice ( USA)

Joel Reynolds, Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council

Carl Zichella, Regional Staff DirectorCA/NV/HI Field Office, Sierra Club

Priscilla Feral, President, Friend of Animals ( USA)

Andrew J. Orahoske, Land Air Water, University of Oregon’s environmental law society

Scott Hoffman Black, Executive Director, The Xerces Society

Cynthia Elkins, Program Director, Environmental Protection Information Center

David Gordon, Acting Executive Director, Pacific Environment ( USA)

Dr. Thomas J. Goreau, President, Global Coral Reef Alliance

William W. Rossiter, President Cetacean Society International

Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt, Biodiversity Policy Officer, Marine Conservation Society

Greg L. Carter, President, Oceanic Resource Foundation

Robert Rabin/Nilda Medina, Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques'

Tara Thornton, Executive Director, Military Toxics Project

Pamela K. Miller, Director, Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT)

Alfredo Quarto, Exec. Dir., Mangrove Action Project

Ann Z. Olib, Executive Director, People's Task Force for Bases Cleanup Philippines

Drew Weiner, Director, Reef Protection International

Frederic Evenson, Ecological Rights Foundation

Alison Rolfe, San Diego Bay Keeper

Sigrid Lüber, ASMS, OceanCare

Puanani Rogers, Ho`okipa Network - Kauai

Kyle Kajihiro, American Friends Service Committee - Hawai'i

Gershon Cohen Ph.D., Project Director, Campaign to Safeguard America's Waters

Jim Albertini, President, Malu ` Aina Center For Non-violent Education & Action

Laura Olah, Executive Director, Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger

Cheryl A. Magill, Stop LFAS Worldwide Network

Dan Clark, Cry of the Water

Henk van der Keur, Laka Foundation ( Netherlands)

'Ohana Koa, Nuclear Free & Independent Pacific, Hawai'i Chapter

Carroll Muffett, Director of International Programs, Defenders of Wildlife

Tim Dillingham, Executive Director, American Littoral Society

Karen Sack, Oceans Policy Advisor, Greenpeace International

Lisa Finaldi, Greenpeace USA

Sarah Matsumoto, Western Representative, Endangered Species Coalition

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