[Editorial] Defense Bureau keeps information on dugongs from the public

September 24, 2013 Ryukyu Shimpo

The Okinawa Defense Bureau has confirmed that in 2012, for the first time in three years, dugongs came to feed in the sea off Henoko in Nago. This area is the site of the planned reclamation for the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. Records obtained by Kyodo News through a freedom-of-information request suggest that there was evidence of seaweed having been eaten by the endangered marine species. Despite this, without disclosing this to the public, the Defense Bureau applied for a landfill permit in March saying the plan would have little impact on the environment. The Ministry of Defense commented that they never intended to make the results of the survey public, but this statement represents an outrageous lack of common sense. Under the constitution, the people have a right to be informed. In keeping with the principles of the Freedom of Information Act the government should disclose any information that it has. The Ministry of Defense is also known for its tendency towards secrecy. Not only does this serve no purpose, but it flies in the face of democracy, the Constitution and the obligation of civil servants or government employees to abide by the Constitution. We urge them to take this seriously.

According to the report, between April and June last year the Ministry confirmed a dozen instances of seaweed having been eaten by dugongs at the site. There had been no other traces of seaweed having been eaten by the mammals near the area since June 2009. The area around Henoko is known as the habitat for blue coral, an endangered species, and as where sea turtles lay their eggs. The Nature Conservation Society of Japan has confirmed that seven varieties of seaweed, semi-endangered species in the Red Data Book of the Ministry of the Environment, are found there. Three times in the past, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has recommended action to save the dugongs. That Japan and the United States continue to ignore this recommendation is sinful in the extreme.

The marine ecology has been damaged by a range of complicated problems including bleaching of coral reefs due to the rise in ocean temperatures, the resulting disturbance of the ecosystem, the depletion of fishery resources associated with the overfishing of bluefin tuna and the outflow of contaminated water due to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.

That they are prepared to cause damage to the sea in order to build a military base is contrary to the global trend of strengthening environmental protection policies. Government officials should feel pangs of conscience for what they are doing to the sea, which is so valuable and rich in biodiversity.

Former Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto has pointed out that from a military perspective there are no reasonable grounds for relocating the Futenma base within Okinawa. In the near future, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima will decide whether or not to approve the landfill, but either way, the leaders of Japan and the United States should cancel the Henoko plan. It runs contrary to global trends toward protection of the environment, and has neither military rationality nor support from the Okinawan public. Both governments should look to consider this issue from a different angle and see the closing of the Futenma base as an opportunity to drastically improve Japan-U.S. relations.

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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