• Kyodo

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A Japanese nongovernmental organization and a group of Okinawa residents said they will file a suit in a U.S. federal court demanding U.S. measures to protect dugongs in waters off Nago in Okinawa Prefecture where an offshore airport for use by the U.S. military is planned.

The members of the Nagoya-based Fund for “The Rights of Nature” and local residents who work for the protection of the rare sea mammals in waters off the Henoko district of Nago, northern Okinawa, say they will file the suit against the U.S. Defense Department around January 2002.

The demand to protect the dugongs is based on a U.S. law on preservation of species, the members said.

Japan and the United States are considering a plan to build an offshore airport off Nago to relocate the heliport functions of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, central Okinawa. The airport is being considered for joint military-civilian use.

According to Takaaki Kagohashi, a lawyer who serves as executive director of the fund, the plaintiffs will demand that the United States conduct surveys on what impact construction of the airport would have on the habitat of dugongs in the area.

They will demand that U.S. authorities abandon plans for construction of the airport or come up with measures to protect dugongs in the area, he said Saturday.

The Defense Facilities Administration Agency spotted five dugongs in waters around the prefecture during a survey that has been conducted around Okinawa Island since last October at local authorities’ request. It also discovered evidence of dugongs’ consumption of algae.

The Environment Ministry is planning to designate the mammal as a rare species. The seas around Okinawa are the only dugong habitat in Japan and one of the northernmost locations where the creatures can be found.

Dugongs have fish-like bodies and square snouts. They range in length from 2.2 to 3.4 meters and can weigh as much as 360 kg. Sightings of dugongs are believed to have given rise to the mythology of mermaids and sirens.

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