Marines and Manatees: A Proposed U.S. Base in Okinawa Threatens Endangered Dugongs

By Shaw, Jeff | E Magazine, January-February 2005 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Marines and Manatees: A Proposed U.S. Base in Okinawa Threatens Endangered Dugongs

Shaw, Jeff, E Magazine

When Napoleon Bonaparte was told of the peace-loving Okinawan culture, whose values precluded maintaining a standing army, he scoffed. Surrounded by great and powerful neighbors, he opined, such a nation could not long survive.

Years later, the French despot's stance was vindicated. Today, Japanese and American military bases exist throughout Okinawa's subtropical ecosystems. For more than 100 years, Tokyo and Washington were content with domination of the land. Now, say environmental groups on both sides of the Pacific, the United States Marine Corps has come for the sea as well.

Plans are in place for a first-of-its-kind sea-based heliport for the U.S. Marines. Built directly on top of a sensitive coral reef, the mammoth air station's runway will reach a mile into the Pacific Ocean. Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) says that the heliport would smother the life support system of multiple endangered species--among them the critically endangered dugong (manatee), sacred to locals. Only 50 of these genetically distinct creatures survive in the region, comprising the northernmost population. Along with five other environmental groups from Okinawa, mainland Japan and the United States, CBD has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the Department of Defense seeking to stop the sea base.

"Okinawa is sometimes called the 'Galapagos of the East' because of the incredible species diversity found there" says Galvin, a biologist. "Clearly, this is not the place for another military base."

"The coral reef is going to be destroyed, the dugong habitat is going to be destroyed, and there's going to be pollution in what is a pretty clean body of water," predicts Jonathan Taylor, a professor at California State University-Fullerton. "There's also going to be tremendous noise pollution, which will affect wildlife inland."

Besides the dugong, base construction could push other endangered animals over the brink, scientists and activists fear. "The Henoko Sea is very rich in biological diversity," says Makishi Yoshikazu of Okinawa Environmental Network, a local activist group at the forefront of a growing social movement on both sides of the Pacific.

Three endangered species of sea turtle--the green, hawksbill and loggerhead--lay eggs on beaches near the base site. Reefs in Okinawa support more than 1,000 species of fish, attracting scuba divers from all around the world to the warm, clear waters. The variety of marine life divers can see here is second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Off the coast of Henoko village, where the new base is slated for construction, surveys recently uncovered 1,000 types of mollusks--including several that were previously undiscovered. Okinawan scuba guide Tanahara Seishu says Henoko's sea is critical dugong habitat. Based on his photographs of "dugong trenches"--fissures in the sea grass left by feeding animals he concludes, "Henoko is the main feeding ground of the dugong."

The U.S. military makes two arguments: that building the sea base is a Japanese government project, hence outside American jurisdiction; and that the sea base would replace a much resented base on land, thus reducing the "footprint" of the U.S. military on Okinawa Island proper.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Marines and Manatees: A Proposed U.S. Base in Okinawa Threatens Endangered Dugongs


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?