Last update:

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.

See more
Basic Data
Name of conflict:Expansion of US Military base puts endangered Henoko Bay Dugong at risk on Okinawa, Japan
State or province:Okinawa prefecture
Location of conflict:Henoko, Nago city
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Wetlands and coastal zone management
Military installations
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The 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:184
Level of Investment:approx. USD 3,300,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:about 1,869
Start of the conflict:25/09/2003
Relevant government actors:U.S. Department of Defense; U.S. Department of State; Japan Ministry of Defense; Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Okinawa prefecture; Nago city
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Save 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
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous 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 mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Threats to use arms
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Refusal of compensation
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-economical 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
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of alternatives:Futenma Base can be removed to Guam (which belongs to US) without building a military facility at Henoko.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain: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 put increasing political pressure on Okinawa governor to accept the Henoko plan.
In this case, the driving force for the conflict in not the capitalist industrial growth in the social metabolism (energy and material flows) as in so many other conflicts in the EJAtlas inventory (in Japan and the world in general) bur specifically a US military installation. Opposition draws upon the “cult of wilderness” but also on local and national feelings against US military.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

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)

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a request for the protection of the Okinawa dugong in 2000.
[click to view]

Thousands march on Henoko base site, 2014
[click to view]

‘Endangered Okinawa dugong’s habitat to be bulldozed for the sake of US military base’
[click to view]

Kyodo News 2017, "Japan begins constructing more seawalls for new U.S. base in Okinawa"
[click to view]

Global Research 2017, "Agent Orange on Okinawa: Six Years On"
[click to view]

Asahi Shinbun 2017b, "New building work begins at site for U.S. base in Okinawa"
[click to view]

Asahi Shinbun 2017a, "Kayak protest in Okinawa held after 6 months of U.S. base work"
[click to view]

The Japan Times 2017, "Okinawa to see work start on two new Futenma seawalls next week"
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[1] Center of Biological Diversity (USA), statement of March 2019.
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Kenichi Matsui, Associate Professor, University of Tsukuba, Japan
Last update18/08/2019
Legal notice / Aviso legal
We use cookies for statistical purposes and to improve our services. By clicking "Accept cookies" you consent to place cookies when visiting the website. For more information, and to find out how to change the configuration of cookies, please read our cookie policy. Utilizamos cookies para realizar el análisis de la navegación de los usuarios y mejorar nuestros servicios. Al pulsar "Accept cookies" consiente dichas cookies. Puede obtener más información, o bien conocer cómo cambiar la configuración, pulsando en más información.