Dugong living on the northwestern coast of the island of Okinawa are threatened by the proposed expansion of a U.S. military over the coral reef they inhabit. Only about 50 of these irreplaceable sea mammals remain in the wild. Related to the West Indian manatee, the dugong is a Japanese national monument and a US federally protected critically endangered species.
The International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a Swiss-based international environmental protection NGO declared 2010 as the "International Year of the Dugong" in its support to protect the dugong during the 2010 UN Year of Biodiversity.
In August of 2009, a group of Okinawans filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government––challenging the environmental legality of the planned US military base expansion in an ecologically sensitive coral reef in northeastern Okinawan:
...The complainants claim construction of a new airfield on the lower part of Camp Schwab, with runways reaching into Oura Bay, would endanger the threatened Okinawa dugong, a marine mammal related to the manatee.The Okinawan lawsuit followed a successful 2008 judgement in a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense filed by The Center for Biological Diversity in U.S. federal court:
In the vibrant turquoise waters of Japan’s Henoko Bay, dugong herds once grazed peacefully on vast meadows of sea grass. But after decades of active U.S. military operations in the region, possibly fewer than 50 last dugongs now struggle to survive in Okinawa — once dubbed the “Galápagos of the East” for its rich biodiversity.
The Center has used innovative legal tactics to secure new protections for the dugong. In 2003, we led a coalition of Japanese and American environmental groups in suing the U.S. Department of Defense to halt the construction of an American airbase in Henoko Bay. Since the dugong is protected under Japanese cultural properties law, the Center filed the first-ever international lawsuit under the U.S. National Historic Preservation Act to protect its last habitat. In 2004, we helped organize a resolution by 889 of the world’s leading coral-reef experts that called on the Japanese and U.S. governments to abandon their plan to construct the offshore airbase. And we led hundreds of international conservation groups in calling on former President Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to cancel the airbase plan.
In 2005, a federal judge ruled that our lawsuit over the airbase could proceed under the U.S. National Historic Preservation Act. The international coalition reiterated opposition to the airbase and rejected an altered construction proposal by the United States and Japan that would still devastate dugong habitat. Finally, in 2008, a federal judge ruled against the U.S. Department of Defense, requiring it to consider impacts of a new airbase on the dugong in order to avoid or mitigate any harm.
Unfortunately for the dugong and the creatures that share its habitat — including three imperiled sea turtles — the United States is now considering expanding an existing airbase near Henoko in dugong habitat. The Center is working hard to stop those plans.