Legal Battle Begins in Appeal Challenging US Military’s Threat to Rare Okinawa Dugongs

SAN FRANCISCO— American conservation groups and residents of Okinawa have filed the opening brief in an appeal of a court ruling allowing construction of a US Marine Corps air base in the Japanese island’s coastal waters.

The brief, filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, highlights the base’s threat to the Okinawa dugong, a critically endangered marine mammal related to manatees. Building the base will involve filling in and paving over hundreds of acres of rich coral and seagrass habitat crucial to the last surviving Okinawa dugongs.

Turtle Island Restoration Network, The Center for Biological Diversity, and the Japanese co-plaintiffs are represented in the case by Earthjustice, which filed the appeal. The 9th Circuit ruled in 2017 that Okinawa residents deserved a full hearing on their concerns.

“The Okinawa dugong, sea turtles, coral reefs, humans and the ocean environment need the U.S. justice system to guard our genuine national security by rejecting this ecologically horrendous project,” said Todd Steiner, founder and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Dugongs have long been revered by native Okinawans. The brief argues that a lower court’s ruling last year overlooked key procedural and public-participation requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act.

The brief notes that the U.S. Department of Defense avoided consulting with any community members or cultural practitioners regarding the airbase’s threats to the dugong. Military officials also disregarded evidence that the base will hurt dugongs.

The dugong is listed as an object of national cultural significance under Japan’s Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. Under the U.S. National Historic Preservation Act and international law, the United States must avoid or mitigate harm to places or things of cultural significance to another country.

Turtle Island Restoration Network is a leading advocate for the world’s oceans and marine wildlife. Our work is based on science, fueled by people who care, and effective at catalyzing long-lasting positive change that protects the likes of sea turtles, sharks and salmon. Join our network to help us protect all marine species and the blue-green planet they call home at www.seaturtles.org.

###

Press Contact: Todd Steiner, Executive Director, (415) 488-7652, tsteiner@seaturtles.org

The following resources are available:

Inquiries regarding the above resources can be directed to Rebekah Staub at rstaub@seaturtles.org

Leave a Reply