Expansion of US Military base puts endangered Henoko Bay Dugong at risk on Okinawa, Japan

Henoko Bay Dugong and rare corals are endangered by the expansion of a U.S. Base in Okinawa. A coalition of environmentalist organizations oppose the plan


In 2003, three Japanese citizens, six U.S. and Japanese environmental associations along with Okinawa residents on behalf of the dugong as plaintiffs filed a claim against the U.S. Department of Defense at the U.S. District Court in northern California. The plaintiffs claimed that the U.S. Marine base construction scheme in Henoko Bay would destroy the habitat of marine mammals like the dugong. For local Okinawa residents, the dugong has been integral part of their cultural and historical heritage, and the planned military facility would violate the U.S. National Historic Preservation Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. This military facility was planned to replace the existing and controversial military base in Futenma as the location is within residential areas and some accidents had plagued residents for a long time. This replacement plan, however, met strong opposition from environmental activists and Okinawa people in general partly because of the impact on the dugong. They also opposed because Okinawa people had been overburdened by American military presence for too long. In 2008, the judge of the district court dismissed the standing of the dugong in this case, but mostly agreed with the plaintiffs' argument, ordering the DOD to conduct proper impact assessment prior to the commencement of the construction. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his cabinet, however, are now determined to continue construction despite the strong opposition from residents. The newly elected Okinawa prefecture governor has strongly acted against this Henoko plan, sharply confronting with Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga. The dispute has not been resolved yet.

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Basic Data
NameExpansion of US Military base puts endangered Henoko Bay Dugong at risk on Okinawa, Japan
ProvinceOkinawa prefecture
SiteHenoko, Nago city
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Military installations
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific CommoditiesWater
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe design of the Futenma Replacement Facility is based on the bilateral agreement between Japan and the U.S., "United States-Japan Roadmap for Realignment Implementation" (2006). Japan agreed to construct the facility. It is to be V-shaped runways, each with about 1,800 meters in length. The runways extend over the peninsula of the Camp Schwab site between Henoko Bay and Oura Bay. The construction of this facility will require about 160 hectares of marine area with 2,100 cubic meters of soils for landfill. This construction will affect about 78.1 hectares of sea grass bed and about 6.9 hectares of coral area. The beach area of the Camp Schwab will be completely destroyed.
Project Area (in hectares)184
Level of Investment (in USD)approx. USD 3,300,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Populationabout 1,869
Start Date25/09/2003
Relevant government actorsU.S. Department of Defense; U.S. Department of State; Japan Ministry of Defense; Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Okinawa prefecture; Nago city
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersSave the Dugong Foundation; Japan Environmental Lawyers' Association (JELF); Center for Biological Diversity; Turtle Island Restoration Network; Dugong Network Okinawa; Committee Against Heliport Construction/Save Life Society; WWF Japan; Conservation Alliance Japan; Okinawa Reefcheck & Research Group; Dugong No Sato; Diving Team Snack Snafkin
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Property damage/arson
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Public campaigns
Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Referendum other local consultations
Refusal of compensation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Media based activism/alternative media
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Street protest/marches
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Development of alternative proposals
Official complaint letters and petitions
Threats to use arms
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..) , Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusUnder construction
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCourt decision (victory for environmental justice)
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of AlternativesFutenma Base can be removed to Guam (which belongs to US) without building a military facility at Henoko.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The issue is on-going. Okinawa governor has maintained a strong position against the Henoko plan. He is backed by a large number of Okinawa residents. However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his followers have been putting increasing political pressure on Okinawa governor to accept the Henoko plan.
Sources and Materials

U.S. National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), 16 U.S.C.; Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C.; Agreement Between the United States and Japan Concerning the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands (1972); Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security (1960); Status of Forces Agreement (1960); Alliance Transformation and Realignment Agreement (2005); United States-Japan Roadmap for Realignment Implementation (2006); Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and National Heritage (1972)


The Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a request for the protection of the Okinawa dugong in 2000.
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‘Endangered Okinawa dugong’s habitat to be bulldozed for the sake of US military base’
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Thousands march on Henoko base site, 2014
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Asahi Shinbun 2017a, "Kayak protest in Okinawa held after 6 months of U.S. base work"
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Kyodo News 2017, "Japan begins constructing more seawalls for new U.S. base in Okinawa"
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Asahi Shinbun 2017b, "New building work begins at site for U.S. base in Okinawa"
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The Japan Times 2017, "Okinawa to see work start on two new Futenma seawalls next week"
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Global Research 2017, "Agent Orange on Okinawa: Six Years On"
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Other Documents

Henoko Bay Looking at the Camp Schwab site from Henoko Bay beach. December 2011. Photo by the author.
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Save the dugong protests at Henoko, Okinawa. Aug 2014 Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/553520610425517134/
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Peaceful protest against Henoko US military base Photo credit: Greenpeace
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Greenpeace protesters against the US military base Photo credit: Greenpeace
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Protest against Henoko US military base photo credit: Ian Teh
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Meta Information
ContributorKenichi Matsui, Associate Professor, University of Tsukuba, Japan
Last update07/11/2017