A natural treasure trove Oura Bay: Building new U.S. base will destroy the environment, nature and life

Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakima has approved land reclamation work in the Henoko district of Nago in preparation for moving U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. The Japanese and U.S. government are promoting the relocation plan. However, many Okinawan people continue to oppose the plan to reclaim the precious sea where dugongs live. In addition, many experts in and outside Japan suspect the reclamation work for building the new base will negatively affect the natural environment. If both governments force through the plan, it is likely to draw strong international criticism. With the U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy visiting Okinawa, the Ryukyu Shimpo revisits the issue of Henoko’s natural environment and the damage that will be caused by the reclamation work.

A vast coral community lies at the bottom of sea off Henoko. Endangered species such as dugongs and sea turtles freely swim in the transparent sea that nurtures natural mozuku and a bed of seaweed feeding dugongs. Okinawa has a natural treasure trove around Henokozaki in Nago and Oura Bay where the U.S. and Japanese governments plan to build a new base.

The Nature Conservation Society of Japan looked into the environmental assessment carried out by the Japanese government for the Henoko landfill. The society reported that the areas around Henokozaki and Oura Bay are waters with much biodiversity. The area stands out among all the Ryukyu islands as a place where many rare and indigenous species live. The natural environment conservation policy of the Okinawa Prefectural Government evaluates the area as Rank 1, which needs serious preservation.

Oura Bay is a deep estuary close to the land. Oura and Teima rivers flowing into the bay have brought nourishment over thousands of years, gradually creating a haven of remarkable biodiversity.
However, in a relatively short time, the reclamation work for building the base will bring a load of earth and sand from outside the island into the fertile sea, spoiling what has long brought great benefits to the people. Ignoring the local people who oppose destroying the environment, nature and life, the U.S. and Japanese governments are forcing through the plan.

Even though the governor approved the landfill, he also fears the reclamation work will negatively influence the environment. The earth and sediment for the landfill will be 21 million cubic meters. This is equal to 70 buildings of the Okinawa Prefectural government main office that is from the second basement to the 14th floor.

The earth and sediment for the landfill brought from outside Okinawa will be 17 million cubic meters. This accounts for 80 percent of the total. Many people think invasive alien species that will be carried in the earth and sand from outside the prefecture will upset the regional ecosystem.

The majority of Okinawan people and many intellectuals outside the prefecture, including high profile US figures, oppose the plan to reclaim the long-prospering and beautiful sea of Henoko and Oura Bay. However, the U.S. and Japanese governments are promoting the plan.

(English translation by T&CT)

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