Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 14, 2017

Contact:  Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 986-2600,
Sarah Burt, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2055,

Federal Appeals Court Considers U.S. Military Base's Harm to Endangered Okinawa Dugong

SAN FRANCISCO— The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments tomorrow, March 15, in a lawsuit seeking to compel the U.S. government to disclose and consider the impacts of its proposed military base in Okinawa, Japan, on the critically endangered Okinawa dugong.

The suit was brought by conservation groups and Okinawa residents. The base would destroy important habitat for Okinawa dugongs, marine mammals related to manatees whose population has declined to just a few individuals.  

What: Oral arguments in Center for Biological Diversity v. Carter, Case No. 15-15695, a case concerning the U.S. government's failure to adequately consider the impact of a Marine Corps air base in Okinawa, Japan on a critically endangered marine mammal.

When: Wednesday, March 15, at 9:30 a.m.

Where: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, 95 7th St., Courtroom 2, San Francisco

The appeal continues a controversial battle over the expansion of a U.S. airbase in Okinawa. From protests in Okinawa to the resignation of a Japanese Prime Minister who was unable to halt the project, the expansion of the base has sparked high-profile concern. 

“This project could tip Okinawa dugongs into extinction,” said Peter Galvin, the Center's director of programs. “These adorable, gentle animals are in grave danger. Paving over one of the last places they survive will be a death sentence for the dugong and a deep cultural loss for the Okinawan people.”

The airbase expansion would construct an airstrip in Henoko Bay, damaging the coast and the rich coral and seagrass habitat that supports dugongs. Dugongs are protected in Japan as a cultural icon and therefore protected under the U.S. National Historic Preservation Act, which requires special consideration for culturally significant resources. After an initial court victory that required the United States to take into account its military base's impacts on the dugong, a subsequent ruling dismissed the case because it concerned a political issue.

“It is essential that our courts hold the government to account when it fails to comply with the law,” said Earthjustice attorney Sarah Burt. “The law requires the Defense Department to make every effort to understand and minimize the effects of this project on the dugong. The plaintiffs are entitled to their day in court to make their case that the Defense Department has failed to do this.”

Conservation groups and Okinawa community groups appealing the decision will argue that the court must revive the case to decide whether the U.S. complied with its obligations to take into account and mitigate the impacts of the military base on the endangered Okinawa dugong.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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