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Caroline Kennedy, dive with me in Okinawa and it’ll change your mind

Special To The Japan Times

Two copies of this letter by American marine biologist Katherine Muzik — one in English, the other in Japanese — were sent to U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on Feb. 18, along with signed copies of two of Muzik’s children’s books about the sea, also in English and Japanese, and her CV. Although U.S. Postal Service records suggest the package was received by the embassy on Feb. 24, Muzik has yet to receive a response.

Your Excellency Caroline Kennedy, United States Ambassador to Japan,

With this letter, I entreat you to help protect the marvelous coral reef ecosystem at Oura Bay (Henoko) in Nago city, northeast Okinawa, from certain destruction under the U.S.-Japan plan for military expansion.

Having lived in Okinawa and worked there as a marine biologist for 11 years, long ago (1981-1988) and more recently (2007-2011), I have dived the entire Ryukyu archipelago from Amami and Kikai in the north to Yonaguni in the south. I can therefore assure you there is no comparable reef ecosystem remaining such as the beautiful reef at Oura. It is indeed miraculous that it is still surviving. Aki samiyo (“Oh my goodness!” in Okinawan)! There is no disease nor bleaching there! It has so far avoided the troubles that continue to plague and destroy coral reefs worldwide, whether in the Pacific or the Caribbean. (I am sure that you are quite painfully aware that reefs all over the world are dying, thus making any coral reef alive anywhere a truly sacred place.)

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. I dived there last year in amazement. As far as I could swim, during seven dives, it was alive! All of it! I felt I was a child again, over six decades ago, when everything was still alive and well.

Thus, I write you from a position of love for marine life, and hope you can help me and the Okinawans preserve their last remaining reef on mainland Okinawa.

I write you to accompany me on a dive (or several dives, if you like) at Oura Bay, to see the splendor still living there, with your own eyes. I understand you might have flown over Oura Bay in a helicopter during your recent first visit to Okinawa, but hey, the second time, I invite you to please come swim with me there.

The best times of the year for your next visit would be this June or September. (Your choice! We will have to dodge rainy season, typhoons and tourists, so perhaps June is better.) Surely after a dive or two, to about a comparatively safe 30 feet (9 meters), you will be convinced of the beauty and importance of the corals there! Surely after witnessing their splendor, you will not be able — not at all — to condone their demise. Of course, if you prefer privacy, I can arrange to keep the media away during your visit. I only ask and hope, in return, to receive your support, to help Okinawans preserve their Oura Bay reef ecosystem. It is of dire importance to reverse the decision to move the Futenma base there.

Time is of the essence, as destruction is set to commence in 2015. Crushing these beautiful and quintessential corals just must not, cannot happen.

To explain, I moved from Okinawa to Kauai in 2011, just after the Fukushima meltdown. I feel deeply, then as now, that the situation throughout Japan is dire. Otherwise I would still be there.

I love Okinawa. As I wrote above, I lived there for a long time, and recently returned there, expecting to live in Okinawa for the rest of my life. I love Okinawan courtesy and sense of community, but I could not, as an American citizen, endure being silenced. I had to choose, and in April 2011, I chose not to be silent about this imminent destruction.

Last July, I returned to Okinawa from here in Kauai at the request of the Okinawan Environmental Network. I was asked to dive at Oura Bay and to lend my support to its protection. During my visit I met with the mayor of Nago, who is valiantly opposed to construction/destruction at Oura. I also gave lectures at the Nago Library and the Naha Museum and made several TV and newspaper appearances, all to extoll its virtues.

Caroline, should you need a letter of recommendation, please ask the Emperor to vouch for my credibility. I am deeply honored to have met him and the Empress several times at their palace during the time I lived in Okinawa. He is a marine biologist too, and since his goby fishes often find their home on the branches of “my” octocorals, I collected some for him to study. Meanwhile, I was the English editor of the “The Fishes of the Japanese Archipelago” book, so we met quite professionally, too.

For you, I enclose two of my children’s books (please check out the Emperor’s goby on the next-to-last page of “Ellisella the Coral”!), my curriculum vitae and my deep assurance that I am writing to you from a position of love for marine life. I write you with the hope that you will help the Okinawans preserve their last remaining reef system against U.S. and Japanese aggression. My credentials are impeccable and my motives are pure. I am strong, ardent, tenacious and well-informed.

In closing, I send you words from the last monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen Lili’uokalani, who was a gifted musician, stateswoman, writer and philanthropist, but whose intent was utterly crushed by the U.S. government. She could not save her people from the U.S. invasion.

She solemnly wrote, in 1887: “You must remember never to cease to act because you fear you may fail. The way to lose any earthly kingdom is to be inflexible, intolerant and prejudiced. Another way is to be too flexible, tolerant of too many wrongs and without judgment at all. It’s a razor’s edge. It is the width of a blade of pili grass.”

Like you and me, dear Caroline, Lili’uokalani was a strong woman, so I share her words with you here, to give us strength to proceed in this endeavor. I hope you will prove to be just as courageous and strong as she was.

I beseech you for help. I know you can, and together I am sure we can prevail.

Yours sincerely,

KATHERINE MUZIK
Kauai, Hawaii

Comments or submissions (of between 500-700 words addressed to local, regional or national politicians, officials, ministries or other authorities): community@japantimes.co.jp

  • FunkyB

    Does anyone else think it is incredibly hypocritical to criticize Japan’s whaling operations while simultaneously trying to ram through a military development plan that would destroy an entire endangered ecosystem here?

  • Enkidu

    Hi Katherine,

    I appreciate your concern for this important environmental asset and your interest in protecting it, but if you really “feel deeply” that “the situation throughout Japan is dire” then I have to ask how serious you think the situation is when you say that reversing the Oura Bay decision is also of “dire” importance. Your first statement tells me (and probably most other residents of Japan), that you have a propensity to exaggerate when it comes to environmental risks. I hope that is not the case for your main point regarding Oura Bay, which does sound like a wonderous place, but surely your generalization regarding the entirety of Japan does not help your case.

  • Norikazu

    Dear The Japan Times,

    I’d like to make one suggestion: follow-up.

    This column has provided great opportunities for ordinary citizens to cast their
    opinions to high-profile figures in public, but readers don’t know their subsequent
    responses. Thus, this column usually ends unilaterally even though we are
    treated to some further comment from readers.

    This time, Katherine had sent the same letter to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo
    previously, but there was no response. I suggest “The Japan Times” give her a hand
    through a follow-up column if she again receives no reply. This will make it
    harder for the recipient to ignore her submission.