Airbase construction threatens dugongs and turtles.

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Greenpeace is demanding that a plan to build a military airbase across sensitive coral reefs and dugong habitat in Okinawa, Japan be abandoned.

In a press conference in Tokyo on March 10th, Greenpeace called for the designation of a marine reserve to protect this vulnerable marine environment.

The Japanese government is planning to construct an airbase for the US Military across the top of a coral reef in Henoko, Okinawa. The plan is strongly opposed by the local people, who have halted the construction for more than four months.

An independent environmental impact assessment for the project is not being carried out, despite the recent ruling in US courts that the US military was responsible for ensuring that the project meets US preservation standards. Much of the valuable habitats of Henoko would be completely destroyed by construction on the reef, and the impacts of an operational airbase would be devastating to the local environment.

“The Okinawa coral reef that the U.S. Department of Defense wants to pave over is home to more than 1,000 species of marine life, including the last population of dugongs in Japan and three kinds of endangered sea turtles. This is so clearly in violation of US law that even Donald Rumsfeld would never try something like this in our own waters,” – stated John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA.

Scientific opinion suggests that the airbase would push the dugongs to extinction in the country, and would drive away or kill sea turtles and terns from Henoko. The United Nations Environment Program has released a report calling for the creation of a marine sanctuary to protect the dugong. Despite the report’s findings, the government of Japan has chosen to build a 2,500-meter long, 700-meter wide runway complete with hangers, control towers and fuel storage on top of this fragile ecosystem.

“What we need is a marine reserve, not a reserve for the Marines!” – said Steve Shallhorn, Greenpeace Japan executive director.

“Given the values of the area and the unthinkable damage that would be caused by a construction project such as this, Greenpeace’s demand is simple: make the waters of Henoko a marine reserve, not an airbase!”

“We have got an amazing response in the past two weeks” said Noriko Kanashige of Greenpeace Japan.

“Until now, 5,168 people have sent a ribbon to the Rainbow Warrior, and almost ten thousand sent letters to President Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi. These have come from 118 different countries – and almost half of them from the US.”

Together with the local activists, the environmental organisation is organising a flotilla at Henoko next Saturday, 12th of March. Greenpeace demands both the US and the Japanese governments to desist from the building of the airbase.

Source: Greenpeace