• Kyodo

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Japanese conservation groups will recommend a review of U.S. military base construction in Okinawa with respect to wildlife preservation at a general meeting of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources scheduled for early October, group members said.

Six conservation groups, including the World Wide Fund for Nature Japan and the Nature Conservation Society of Japan, will make the recommendation during the Oct. 4-11 IUCN meeting in a bid to raise international awareness of the situation on Okinawa.

According to the groups, the planned construction of a joint-use airport off the Henoko district of Nago, northern Okinawa, will destroy coral reefs and endanger wildlife in the area. The sea near the coast is the only local habitat of the dugong, a sea mammal rare to Asia.

The groups are asking that the Japanese government carry out research on dugongs and draw up plans to protect them.

They are also calling on the U.S. government to review the plan to build the airport, intended to take over helicopter operations now based at the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, and suspend military drills in the area.

Though the recommendation would have no binding force even if adopted, it could possibly influence discussions on relocating the U.S. base, the groups said.

In 1996, Tokyo and Washington agreed that the U.S. military would vacate the Futenma base in five to seven years, providing its heliport operations are relocated within the prefecture.

The Japanese government decided last December to build a joint military-civilian airport in Nago to host the heliport.

The groups are also calling for the conservation of a rare nonflying bird, the “yambaru kuina” (Okinawa rail) as well as the “noguchigera” (white stork woodpecker), in the northern forests of Okinawa Island.

They say the planned construction of helipads and military roads will threaten their habitats.

In 1987 and 1990, similar IUCN recommendations were adopted over the planned civil airport, which threatened a rare coral reef, on Ishigaki Island, about 400 km southwest of Okinawa Island. As a result, the construction site was changed.

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