Editorial: IUCN proposed recommendation will add to international pressure to stop Henoko base

July 5, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

The issue of alien species invasion feared to occur due to soil being brought in from other parts of Japan as part of the new Henoko base construction will be discussed at the General Assembly of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in September. Having received a proposal from the Nature Conservation Society of Japan and other organizations, the IUCN General Assembly will vote on a proposed recommendation to the Japanese government.

Six Japanese environmental conservation organizations have been criticizing the plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko, calling for the conservation of the dugong, sea turtle, coral, and other rare life forms, as well as the natural environment.

The IUCN, which is the international authority on environmental conservation, made a recommendation to the Japanese government that the dugong be protected three times, in 2000, 2004, and 2008, but the Japanese government turned its back on international opinion regarding nature conservation and is moving forward aggressively with the Henoko base construction.

2,100 cubic meters of soil, enough to fill the Okinawa Prefectural Office 70 times, is planned to be used to fill in the sea in the Henoko land reclamation. Reclamation of sea areas alone is destructive to marine ecosystems, and the additional issue of the impact of alien species mixed into the soil brought in from other parts of the country is also garnering attention.

The reclamation plan involves shipping soil to Okinawa from seven locations and six prefectures around the country. These locations are confirmed to be home to nine animal species that are poisonous or likely to exterminate native species, such as the Argentine ant and the redback spider. If these species invade the environment, they could have a devastating effect on native ecosystems.

In November of last year, an ordinance that restricts bringing in soil containing alien species came into effect, but there are doubts as to its effectiveness. It may not be possible to conduct an infallible check of every inch of the massive amount of soil needed to reclaim a vast area of sea in order make sure none of it contains any microscopic harmful organisms.

Three villages in the northern part of Okinawa were just designated as Yambaru National Park, and that area is now a likely candidate for designation as a World Heritage nature site. If alien species are allowed to invade the nearby Henoko area, it could have an impact on the unique flora and fauna and the biodiversity of the northern Yambaru region.

In 2010, Japan served as the chair at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. It is the responsibility of the Japanese government to sincerely address the discussion on the proposed recommendation regarding measures to deal with alien species to be deliberated by the IUCN General Assembly.

World Heritage nature sites are designated based on a recommendation by the IUCN. The way in which the government addresses the issues of alien species and impact to the dugong caused by the Henoko base construction could end up crucially affecting Yambaru’s designation as a World Heritage nature site.

Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine will be attending the IUCN General Assembly in September. A representative from the Okinawa prefectural government ought to attend as well. It is hoped that the Nature Conservation Society of Japan and other organizations in Japan and Okinawa will join together and work to increase international pressure to stop the ill-advised plan to build a new base in Henoko.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)
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