Sunday, August 17, 2014

Japan's 47 News: Okinawa dugong spotted today 2 miles from Henoko Beach; on the same day that destruction of dugong habitat started...

Dugong seen swimming off Henoko coast today. (Image: 47 News via Kyodo)

Today a Japanese media outlet, 47 News, reported that a Kyodo helicopter team filmed a Okinawa dugong swimming 2 miles from Henoko Beach on June 17,  as the Japanese government started the destruction of its habitat. The dugong was seen floating for about 10 minutes before it submerged into the sea. The sea mammal is at an extremely high risk of extinction.

Mariko Abe, chief of the Nature Conservation Society of Japan protection department, who is familiar with the ecosystem of Henoko said, "This is undoubtedly a dugong," after viewing the image.


Background: The Nature Conservation Society of Japan reported in July that it had found more than 110 locations around the site of the proposed construction where dugongs had fed on seagrass this year. The Sea of Henoko has the largest and best feeding grounds for the critically endangered sea mammal. There are seagrass beds at the sea adjacent to Henoko, to the north, at the Sea of Kayo, but the beds are small and would not be able to sustain even the tiny population of remaining dugong.

Since 1955, the dugong has been protected as a cultural monument by the autonomous Ryukyu Prefecture, due largely to its status as a revered and sacred animal among native Okinawans. Since 1972, the species has also been listed by Japan's federal government as a "natural monument" under the country's Cultural Properties Protection Law. It is also protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

In 2004, the US environmental law firm, Earthjustice, on behalf of Okinawan, Japanese, U.S. environment protection groups and Okinawan residents filed a federal lawsuit, the "Okinawa Dugong versus Rumsfeld," in San Francisco, asking for protection for the dugong. The case is still open; after a 2008 ruling that the defendants must negotiate with the plaintiffs regarding environmental issues and protection of dugong habitat. The plaintiffs are still waiting for this discussion.

Therefore on July 31, 2014, Earthjustice filed a new lawsuit in the same court, asking the US government to halt construction plans.

Dugongs have been seen more frequently in the Sea of Henoko and appear at critical times in the struggle over the new base, which is opposed by almost all residents of Henoko, and 75% of Okinawans.

An Okinawan-Hawaiian American explains the significance to Okinawans and Overseas Okinawans, "The Okinawan manatee seem to always appear during times of being threatened as if they are trying to to show that they want their home to be protected and to lay claim. For Okinawans, it is like our ancestors are also saying to protect the land and ocean."

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