CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Everything seemed to be in place Monday to start an environmental survey to be used for a new Marine air station.

Everything, that is, except for a dugong.

At least one of the endangered saltwater manatees was spotted Monday inside the Oura Bay reef in an area slated to be filled in for runways on Camp Schwab.

Defense Agency officials decided to suspend the survey for a day to ensure their operations just off Cape Henoko, which houses the lower portion of Camp Schwab, would not be at risk.

“We received a report from the survey contractor that there was a spotting of the sea mammal,” a Ministry of Defense spokesman said Tuesday. “We suspended the survey in the surrounding waters as a precautionary measure. From today on, while giving a maximum consideration to the sea mammal, we will proceed with the survey.”

The survey is for construction of the two runways that are planned to begin on the lower part of the Marine base and extend in a “V” shape onto landfill in the shallow water of the bay. The new air station would replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which lies in the middle of urban Ginowan and is a key part of realigning U.S. troops in Japan.

Under the realignment, some 8,000 Marines and their families would be transferred to Guam once the airport is complete. Also, Camps Kinser and Lester and part of Camp Foster would be closed along with MCAS Futenma.

The environmental survey is to be finished by August 2009, to be followed by a nine-month assessment period before a decision is made whether to go ahead with construction. The airport is tentatively scheduled to be completed by 2014.

Plans to replace MCAS Futenma with a facility in Okinawa’s rural northeast have been around since 1996, when the U.S. and Japan agreed to close Futenma within 10 years once a suitable replacement was found elsewhere on Okinawa.

Several plans were adopted and then scrapped before the two sides agreed upon a sea-based facility to be built some two miles off Henoko.

However, anti-base demonstrators using canoes and other small craft successfully interfered with an environmental survey and the plan was shelved in favor of the Camp Schwab proposal.

About 15 protesters were in the water Tuesday but did not interfere with the survey, a ministry spokesman said.

Environmentalists also oppose the new base plan because, they say, it will ruin dugong feeding grounds, whose northernmost home are the waters off Okinawa.

Few dugong have been spotted in recent years, but environmentalists won a major victory in a U.S. federal court last January that ruled the Defense Department failed to conduct its own study of the effects the new airport would have on the dugong. U.S. officials were ordered to produce a plan to assess the impact construction would have on the creatures.

Japanese officials said they did not expect the court ruling to delay the troop realignment, since it was about operations of the new facility, not its construction.

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