10th International Coral Reef Symposium
July 2, 2004
WORLD'S LEADING CORAL REEF EXPERTS VOICE OPPOSITION TO U.S. MILITARY AIRBASE PROJECT AT HENOKO, OKINAWA, AND HIGHLIGHT THE THREAT THAT LAND-FILL PROJECTS POSE TO CORAL REEFS.
889 of the world's leading coral reef experts from 83 countries participating in the 10th International Coral Reef Symposium in Okinawa, Japan, have signed a resolution calling on the governments of Japan and the United States to immediately abandon their joint plan to construct an offshore airbase atop a coral reef on the eastern coast of Okinawa. Signatories include over 150 researchers from the United States, and roughly the same number from Japan.
The conference participants' condemnation of the highly controversial project was further bolstered by the text of the "Okinawa Declaration," the outcome document of the symposium. The declaration lists land-fill practices among the central threats to coral reefs. It also emphasizes the urgent need to prevent any further destruction of existing coral reefs.
Construction of the sea-based facility, which if built would be 2.5 kilometers long and 800 meters wide, involves a massive land-fill project in the waters surrounding the Henoko reef. The proposed site is known to be particularly rich in biological diversity and the primary remaining habitat of the critically endangered Okinawa dugong (salt-water manatee) and numerous other threatened species.
Additionally, the sponsors of the resolution, the Environmental Assessment Watch Group for the Okinawa Dugong and the U.S.-based Center for Biological Diversity, hosted several events during the week-long symposium. 49 conference participants from 18 different countries, including several researchers and policy-makers from the United States, participated in daily tours to view the proposed construction site. The tour also included a visit to an encampment of local residents who, since April 19 of this year, have blocked Japan's National Defense Administration Bureau's efforts to begin a boring survey at 63 sites on and around the reef.
The widespread condemnation of the project by experts at the coral reef symposium lends a critical voice to the already strong national and international opposition to the airbase project. An 8-year effort by local residents to stop the project, which began when the Japanese and U.S. governments ignored the results of a 1997 citizens' referendum where a majority of local residents voted against the new airbase, has grown into a broad, multi-pronged campaign.
Opposition efforts include a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense brought by a number of Okinawan, Japanese and American groups, including the Dugong Network Okinawa and the Center for Biological Diversity, filed last year in the U.S. Federal District Court in San Francisco.
The U.S. seeks to have the case dismissed, arguing that it has no official relationship to or responsibility for the environmental impact of the construction itself since the Japanese government is constructing the new base for the United States. Because the project is based on U.S. designs and operational specifications, and Japan's National Defense Administration Bureau will oversee the project with close cooperation from the U.S. military, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit anticipate a favorable decision by the court requiring the U.S. government to abandon the project.
The fact that the world's leading coral reef researchers and policy-makers gathered in Okinawa this week call for the two governments to abandon the project highlights the growing momentum in the struggle to protect the dugong and coral reef ecosystem from the offshore airbase project.