• Kyodo

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The Okinawa Prefectural Government said Thursday it has found damaged coral reefs where a key U.S. military base is to be relocated as it began research earlier in the day to see whether Defense Ministry drilling and other work there is permissible.

Takeshi Onaga, who became Okinawa governor in December by pledging to block the relocation project, has signaled that permission for the Okinawa Defense Bureau’s work might be withdrawn, depending on the outcome of the research, which is taking place off Nago’s Henoko district.

If this occurs, the bureau will not be able to conduct a drilling survey needed to fill in the coastal areas where Tokyo plans to build the replacement base for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is in densely populated Ginowan, further south in the prefecture.

“We will analyze the outcome (of the research) in detail,” Onaga told reporters, after the prefecture confirmed coral reefs in one area had been damaged by one of the big concrete blocks the bureau placed to resume its boring survey, which has not been conducted since mid-September.

There were also areas where the seafloor had been scraped by the blocks.

The prefectural government’s move came after a claim that coral had been damaged by the concrete blocks.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga termed the start of Okinawa’s research as “regrettable” because it had already held consultations with Okinawa. The top government spokesman said, however, that Tokyo will proceed with its own drilling survey and other work while protecting the environment.

On Thursday, the bureau brought in a large vessel with a crane to add to one already in the coastal area. The bureau had completed its boring surveys at 12 locations by mid-September and plans to resume surveys soon at 12 others to finish the process by the end of March.

Okinawa’s research was conducted in unrestricted areas by 14 people, including prefectural officials on three ships. The temporarily restricted areas prohibit the entrance of vessels other than those of U.S. forces and for construction purposes.

In the research, divers inspected the locations and depth of the concrete blocks to see if the ministry’s undersea work, such as drilling rock and collecting sand, falls within the scope of the prefecture’s rules regarding the crushing of reefs.

The prefecture will consult with the U.S. side on conducting research within the restricted areas. The bureau says the use of blocks does not break the rules as they do not appear to be crushing any reefs.

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