Dugong habitat confirmed at relocation site of Okinawa base

The inhabitation of a site planned for the relocation of a U.S. Marine base in Okinawa by dugongs, an endangered marine mammal, was confirmed last year for the first time in three years by the Okinawa Defense Bureau, a recent survey by the bureau revealed Saturday.

Only a small number of dugongs live in waters near the Japanese archipelago. A survey report obtained by Kyodo News through a freedom-of-information request confirmed traces of seaweed having been eaten by dugongs at the planned reclamation site in the April-June period of 2012.

There had been similar traces of seaweed eating by dugongs near the area in June 2009 but no further evidence that they had inhabited the area since then.

The findings could affect Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima's decision on whether to approve the requested reclamation of the site off the coast in the Henoko district of Nago in the island prefecture.

The Okinawa Defense Bureau applied for the reclamation in March this year, saying there would be little impact on the environment, but it did not disclose the survey's findings.

The waters off the Henoko district are known for abundant seaweed that dugongs feed on. The bureau's survey suggests dugongs have repeatedly visited the area as a feeding site.

Japan and the United States have agreed to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station from the densely populated residential area of Ginowan to the coastal area of Nago as part of a realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

But the plan has hit a snag due to strong local opposition in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan.

An Okinawa Defense Bureau official said the result of the survey does not affect its environmental assessment of the reclamation project and that it does not intend to review the relocation plan.