Conservation groups on Wednesday urged the central government and the U.S. military to assess the impact of the MV-22 Osprey crash off Okinawa Prefecture earlier this month in waters where the endangered dugongs live.
The Nature Conservation Society of Japan, Save the Dugong Campaign Center, and four other groups working for similar causes sent separate letters to the government and U.S. military in Japan to warn them that the crash “could have resulted in the plane hitting a dugong.”
The U.S. Marine Corps MV-22, tilt-rotor aircraft based at Futenma air station in Ginowan, crashed on Dec. 13 in shallow waters off the prefecture’s eastern coast.
The accident area was near the Henoko district in Nago, where construction of a facility to replace the Futenma base recently began despite strong local opposition. The sea off Henoko is not only a dugong habitat, but one for coral reefs as well.
The groups wrote that the Osprey crashed in the vicinity of a seagrass bed, which is a regular feeding area for resident dugong, while other dugong also feed nearby.
At least three dugongs have been confirmed as inhabiting the waters off Okinawa’s main island, two of which often appear around the accident site, according to a survey by the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau.
The environmental groups said they want an investigation into the environmental impact of aircraft fuel and other chemical substances, and called for Ospreys to avoid the dugong habitat.
“If the (planned) base is relocated to Nago’s Henoko, the Ospreys will frequently fly over the habitat, and dugongs will be all the more vulnerable to accidents and suffer from noise pollution,” said Mariko Abe of the Nature Conservation Society of Japan.
Activists have been expressing concern about the noise generated by Ospreys, given that dugongs are sensitive to sound.
Japan and the United States plan to move the Futenma base from crowded Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area in Nago, but there has been opposition due to concerns about the risk of accidents and environmental damage.