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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Environmentalists concerned about the steady deterioration of the world’s coral reefs met on Okinawa last week and called for Japan to abandon plans to build an offshore base to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

Some 889 people from 83 countries signed a resolution calling for halting the project, to be built on reclaimed land and the coral reef about two miles offshore from the village of Henoko. A causeway is to connect it to the Marines’ Camp Schwab.

The resolution is to be sent to U.S. and Japanese officials.

It was passed at the end of the 10th International Coral Reef Symposium in Ginowan. MCAS Futenma sits in the heart of urban Ginowan; the United States and Japan agreed in 1996 that a facility elsewhere on Okinawa should replace it.

In July 2002, the Futenma Relocation Council — national, prefectural and local Japanese officials — picked the Henoko site for the air station; plans were approved to build the base on 455 acres of reclaimed land. The base is to be used jointly by civilian aircraft and would cost about $2.9 billion.

The project is part of a plan to reduce the land area on Okinawa occupied by U.S. military bases by 21 percent. The bases now cover about 20 percent of the island.

Signers of last week’s resolution included 300 researchers from the United States and Japan, according to a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity, which hosted the meeting.

“Construction of the sea-based facility, which if built would be 2.5 kilometers (about 1½ miles) wide, involves a massive landfill project in the waters surrounding the Henoko reef,” stated a center news release. “The proposed site is known to be particularly rich in biological diversity and the primary remaining habitat of the critically endangered Okinawa dugong (saltwater manatee) and numerous threatened species.”

The resolution also opposed other landfill projects taking place in Okinawa waters that are not related to the U.S. bases. However, the Henoko base issue was a focal point. The Environmental Assessment Watch Group for the Okinawa Dugong, the petition’s sponsor, hosted several events during the weeklong symposium, including visits to the Henoko area and to an encampment of anti-base activists. Since April, the activists have blocked Tokyo’s attempts to conduct an environmental survey of the area.

The surveyors, contracted by the Defense Facilities Administration’s Naha bureau, have been stopped from boring 63 holes in the seabed around the reef.

“The widespread condemnation of the project by experts at the coral reef symposium lends a critical voice to the already strong national and international opposition to the air base project,” the center stated, citing a lawsuit filed by six U.S. and Japanese environmental groups in U.S. district court last September against the Department of Defense and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The suit was filed in U.S. Federal District Court for the Northern District of California, Oakland Division. The United States wants to have the suit dismissed, arguing it’s a Japanese government project.

Yoshikazu Makishi of the Okinawa Environmental Network said the waters off Okinawa’s northeastern coast are better preserved than the popular resort beaches of the west coast and should be protected.

But the airport’s land reclamation plan is not the most pressing concern, he said.

“One of the biggest threats to the coral reefs surrounding Okinawa is red soil runoff” from agricultural development, he said Tuesday. “The red clay runs down to the ocean every time it rains and the areas where red soil pollutes the water become bigger and bigger each year. More farmland is being developed, while fewer people are actually engaged in farming, meaning more farmland is left unattended and no one stops the soil from running into the ocean.”

Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.


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