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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A preliminary survey of the underwater environs adjacent to Camp Schwab began this week, almost a year after the U.S. and Japan agreed to the build an air facility there to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

Japanese divers working for the Defense Facilities Administration Agency began the survey Tuesday, placing equipment underwater off Schwab’s north shore a day after Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima approved it.

For security reasons, the exact locations where the survey would start were not disclosed. Okinawa officials announced the preliminary survey would check tidal currents and the extent and condition of the coral reef. Passive sonar and video equipment would also be installed to record activity.

Local press accounts reported that a few protesters, who have been camped out at the Henoko fishing port for three years to protest the move of Marine flight activities from the center of urban Ginowan in central Okinawa to the island’s rural northeast, attempted to interfere. Japan’s coast guard kept them at bay.

The protesters had successfully thwarted an environmental survey of the waters south of Camp Schwab for an earlier plan to build a sea-based Marine air station some 2 miles off the coast. The base has been marked for closure since 1996, contingent on building a replacement facility elsewhere on Okinawa.

Replacing MCAS Futenma with an air station on Camp Schwab, with runways extending into Oura Bay, is a key part of last May’s bilateral agreement to realign U.S. bases in Japan. Under the plan, Marine air operations would be moved and U.S. bases south of Kadena Air Base, with the exception of the Marines' Camp Foster, would be closed.

Also, some 8,000 Marines and their families would be transferred to new facilities on Guam by 2014.

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