News Article

Japanese Delegation Comes To U.S. To Save Exotic Marine Mammal and Cultural Icon(A)

The U.S. military’s construction plans are the target of fierce protest in Japan, where a group of village elders just passed their 100th day of a sit-in to block seabed drilling off the Okinawa coast. The drilling has been held off by the protesters and this week the Japanese activists come to San Francisco for a hearing in their legal challenge to the U.S. government.
A delegation of Japanese residents from the island of Okinawa will arrive in San Francisco Tuesday to attend a hearing Wednesday in U.S. District court over the fate of a native marine mammal threatened by a U.S. military construction project. The marine mammal is called a dugong and is a close relative of the Florida manatee or sea cow. The Japanese are contesting a plan by the US military to build an airbase off the east coast of their island in a shallow bay that provides some of the only remaining dugong feeding grounds. Only 50 Okinawa dugong are believed to survive today. The gentle giants are shy vegetarians that live near the coral reefs and feed on coastal sea grasses. The dugong has deep cultural significance to the people of Okinawa and has been designated a national monument by the Japanese government. Locals have been occupying a protest camp for over three months in their efforts to get the U.S. military to consider moving the airbase elsewhere to protect the critically threatened dugong population.
The lawsuit, called Okinawa Dugong v. Rumsfeld, asks the U.S. military to perform a public cultural impacts analysis to assess the potential adverse impacts of the airbase to the dugong. Earthjustice represents an historic coalition of environmental groups from both sides of the Pacific.
Earthjustice attorney Marcello Mollo will cite the National Historic Preservation Act in his case against the government. The Act requires the US government to conduct a full public impact analysis before undertaking activities outside the United States that might impact the cultural resources of other nations. The Japanese government in 1955 listed the Okinawa dugong as a natural monument under Japan’s Cultural Properties Protection Law. This is the first legal test of the National Historic Preservation Act’ s international provisions.
Wednesday’s court hearing will be followed by a Wednesday evening cultural reception for the Japanese delegation featuring the music of Okinawa. Details below.
High-resolution photos of dugong, protests, drilling equipment, and region available at