Video: By Land and Sea, Locals Protest Another US Military Base in Okinawa
The U.S. military is building its 33rd military base on the small Japanese island, Okinawa, but locals are waging a multi-year, non-violent protest to stop construction and preserve Oura Bay and its spectacular coral reef ecosystem.
Citizen Truth met one Japanese activist who is trying to raise awareness in the hopes of preserving the bay and stopping the construction of the new military base. We asked her to explain what is happening at Okinawa in the video below.
Okinawa, a Tiny Island of Military Bases & a Vibrant Coral Reef
Okinawa is 70 miles long by seven-miles-wide and home to approximately 1.3 million residents, 26,000 of which are U.S. military personnel. As explained in the video above, the new military base is being built in Oura Bay, which many consider home to the most spectacular untouched coral reef ecosystem remaining. The bay is home to 5,300 species, 262 of which are endangered, including the loggerhead turtle, clown fish, and the nearly extinct Japanese dugong.
Locals and environmental organizations like Greenpeace worry the construction of the new U.S. military base in Oura Bay will be devastating to the coral reef and the bay’s whole ecosystem. Greenpeace has been campaigning to make the bay an ocean sanctuary, but construction for the base began in April of 2017.
One marine biologist, Katherine Muzik, described Oura Bay in an opinion piece in 2015 as “miraculous” and added, “there is no comparable reef ecosystem remaining such as the beautiful reef at Oura.”
“Oura Bay is a unique and spectacular ecosystem, including mangroves, a river, a sandy beach with crabs, numerous patch reefs in shallow water (where my specialty, blue corals and red sea fans, thrive), not to mention threatened dugongs and all of the species of clownfish in Japan, shallow beds of sea grasses beyond count, and, most amazingly, a very spectacular deeper reef, nicknamed the ‘Coral Museum,’ with countless gorgeous corals,” said Muzik.
Protests by Land and Sea
In addition to protests and marches on land, locals have formed a kayak fleet team called “Henoko Blue” that kayaks out to the construction sites and non-violently protests and monitors the construction.
According to their website, on April 25th of this year (one year from the commencement of construction) the team organized “83 canoe boats (83 people) and eight ship vessels (130 people)” for an ocean sit in. The blog mentions that the two previous sit-ins had managed to prevent construction from taking place.
“However, we saw today in the morning that there were as many as six trucks loaded with rubble on standby, on top of the already-completed K3 embankment. The canoe members protested against the landfill-dumping construction by passing the oil fence, worked together to demand the halt of the construction, and managed to get the construction suspended!! It may only have been for several minutes, but we managed to halt the rock-laying,” the website states in the April 25th post.
The website continues, “Those of you who bravely came out to the site, those of you nationwide and across the world that sent messages, those of you who held meetings of solidarity in your local areas, those of you who send your thoughts out in sympathy to our cause, we managed to halt the construction because we all worked in unity together. So much life in the ocean has already been killed. But there is no way we are giving up. At this point we can still stop the construction. So we should all be as one at the Henoko sea and raise our voices together!”
Locals have been protesting the military base since 2006 when the U.S. military and Japan signed a deal to close the problematic U.S. Marine Corps base in Futenma, a more congested part of Okinawa’s main island, and build a new base in Oura Bay.
Okinawans resist what they feel is an excessive U.S. military presence on the island in place since World War II. Towards the end of 1945, 180,000 U.S. military troops invaded the island in what became known as the Battle of Okinawa. One-third of the island’s population died after the invasion.
For the next 27 years, Okinawa and all the other islands in the Ryukyu island chain remained under U.S. military control. During that time, the U.S. built an extensive array of bases throughout the Ryukyu islands.
In 1972, the U.S. handed over control of the islands back to Japan but have consistently maintained a U.S. military presence on the islands.
Okinawa residents complain of crime, sexual and physical assaults and a risk of accidents all stemming from the U.S. military presence on Okinawa. Reports have also come out in recent years that Okinawa has been port for U.S. naval bases carrying nuclear weapons and a storage facility for the deadly toxin, Agent Orange.