For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 986-2600

More Than 400 Conservation, Animal Protection, Peace and Justice Groups Plead With President Obama to Commute Okinawa Dugong Death Sentence

Letter Calling for Cancellation of Military Base Expansion in Rare Sea Mammal’s Japanese Habitat Hand-delivered to White House

WASHINGTON - Representatives of conservation, animal protection, and peace and
justice groups representing more than 10 million Americans
hand-delivered a letter today to the White House and State Department
urging President Barack Obama to cancel plans to expand a U.S. military
base near Henoko in Okinawa, Japan. The base expansion would destroy
the prime feeding ground of the few manatee-like Okinawa dugong
remaining in the world (believed to number about 50). The plan to
expand the base - Camp Schwab, in northeast Okinawa - calls for filling
in parts of Oura Bay and the surrounding area. The 1.5-mile-long
airbase would also permanently disrupt one of the most biologically
diverse areas in the Pacific.

Okinawa has been
called the "Galápagos of the East" because of its rich and unique
biological diversity. The Henoko area provides important habitat for
numerous rare wildlife species in addition to the dugong - an
endangered marine mammal related to the manatee and a cultural icon in
Japan - and three species of endangered sea turtles.

U.S. government recently announced that it would reconsider the base
expansion plan in light of the massive local opposition to the project.

Said Peter Galvin, conservation director at the
Center for Biological Diversity, which led the letter campaign: "The
Camp Schwab base expansion project would destroy some of the best
remaining habitat for the highly endangered Okinawa dugong, one of the
rarest marine mammal populations in the world. We call on President
Obama to cancel this environmentally disastrous base-expansion plan."

In January 2008, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel issued a ruling (in Okinawa
Dugong v. Gates, N.D.Cal., C-03-4350) finding the Department of Defense
in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act and requiring
the Department to consider and avoid impacts of a new airbase on the
endangered Okinawa dugong.
The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and
partner groups on both sides of the Pacific in federal court in 2003,
and is still ongoing.

"For Okinawans, the dugong
compares only to the American bald eagle in terms of cultural and
historical significance," said Takuma Higashionna, a city councilmember
from Nago City, Japan.

The waters off Okinawa are
the northernmost home of the dugong. Since 1955, the dugong has also
been protected as a cultural monument by the autonomous Ryukyu
Prefecture, due largely to its status as a revered and sacred animal
among native Okinawans. Since 1972, the species has also been listed by
Japan's federal government as a "natural monument" under the country's
Cultural Properties Protection Law. It is also protected by the U.S.
Endangered Species Act.

In addition to being
hand-delivered to the White House and State Department by Center
attorney Bill Snape, the letter was also emailed, faxed, and mailed
this morning to President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,
and other key officials. 

To see a copy of the letter, please click here.


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