NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – The Okinawa Prefectural Government began an underwater survey Monday to check the condition of coral reefs off the planned replacement site for the U.S. Futenma military base, which could result in revoking permission for drilling work if damage is confirmed.
The prefectural government had been seeking to conduct the survey since February as it believes coral outside the designated work area has been damaged by concrete blocks placed during a drilling survey for landfill work by the local bureau of the Defense Ministry.
A total of 15 Okinawa officials in three boats left in the morning for the area off the Henoko area of Nago, where the central government plans to build the base despite staunch local opposition.
The survey will end on Sept. 12 at the earliest, according to Okinawa officials.
The central government has halted relocation-related work until Sept. 9 to hold “intensive consultations” with Okinawa officials as part of efforts to defuse tensions over the base construction.
In the fourth round of consultations on Saturday, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga agreed that the suspension could be extended for several days to allow for the coral survey.
The Japanese and U.S. governments, which had initially planned to reject Okinawa’s call to conduct the survey, reversed their positions so as not to, according to government sources, aggravate local opposition to the relocation plan.
The relocation of the Futenma base is a key part of a broader bilateral agreement to reorganize the U.S. military presence in Japan, although Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. bases in Japan, has been calling for relocating it outside of the prefecture.