Messenger of the gods…
||This stamp was issued by the Ryukyu Government in 1966 which at that time was under the control of the U.S. Government. The U.S Turned over the Ryukyu Islands (including Okinawa) to Japan in 1972.
Dugongs are saltwater manatees that can live as long as 70 years and grow to nearly 1,000 pounds. Yet somehow, these gentle creatures are said to have fooled lonely sailors into mistaking them for mermaids.
Dugongs hold a special place in local Okinawan culture because they are traditionally regarded as messengers from the sea gods. They are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Dugongs are also listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Only about 50 of these animals remain alive today in the waters off Okinawa – the last dugong in Japanese waters. Any new threat could push this unique population over the brink to extinction. Unfortunately, U.S. military operations on Okinawa threaten to do just that.
…or military base?
After World War II, Okinawa was returned to Japanese control in 1972, but the American military maintains dozens of bases there. The tiny island chain has been forced to house 75 percent of Japan's American military bases. Okinawa bears the resultant burdens, including pollution on land and at sea.
Now Japan and the United States are planning to relocate a Marine Corps air station in central Okinawa Island to Nago, a less densely populated area. Trouble is, the dugong’s primary remaining habitat in Japan exists off the northeastern coast of Okinawa – precisely where base construction will take place.
Dugong are largely content to munch sea grass (jungusa, or literally, “dugong-grass”) on the bottom of ocean shallows. They also use sea-grass beds in the area to mate and rear their young. Construction of the base would crush this most important habitat and food source for the 50 or so dugong manatees that remain alive.
“Galapagos of the East”
Okinawa has been called the “Galapagos of the East.” It supports a dizzying variety of marine species. In fact, the island's coral reefs rank behind only Australia's Great Barrier Reef in terms of ecological diversity, sustaining more than 1,000 types of fish and a host of other spectacular wildlife. The new American military base would be built atop a healthy coral reef that supports numerous species threatened with extinction and myriad other types of animal life.
Three imperiled species of sea turtles – the hawksbill, loggerhead, and green turtle – rely on habitat in the Henoko area. All three types of turtles are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the global Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Turtles use nearby beaches to feed and to lay their eggs. The new base will cause pollution, create harmful artificial lighting in the area, and increase human activity – all of which are harmful to sea turtle reproduction.
The new base will also require a constant supply of fresh water from the Yanbaru forest ecosystem – and not just for drinking. Because military aircraft will be exposed to salt water, they must be washed with fresh water every day to avoid corrosion. Already, the ecologically significant Yanbaru forest suffers from numerous dam projects. Drawing more water from this sensitive area will imperil endangered bird species that rely on the forest for habitat, such as the Okinawa woodpecker and the Okinawa rail. Threatened mangrove trees and endangered mollusks only found in Okinawa are at risk as well.
Oil and chemical spills have repeatedly occurred at two other military airfields in Okinawa. If such accidents occur here, the impacts on coral and sea life would be catastrophic. Construction itself would bury most of the area’s coral underneath the new base. And d ugongs would be right under the flight route.
Center v. Rumsfeld
Environmental groups from both sides of the Pacific Ocean, led by the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a lawsuit in September 2003 against the U.S. Department of Defense and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, protect the Okinawa dugong and halt the airbase construction project. The Center and five other groups argued that the proposed 1.5-mile-long airbase would destroy the prime remaining habitat of the Okinawa dugong. That would violate the National Historic Preservation Act, a U.S. law that stipulates the protection of cultural assets, even in other countries.
Dugongs making love