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The Northernmost Dugongs

Embraced by the Woods, Nurtured by the Sea, Living with People

Let Us Care For Them and Protect Their Habitats

The Association to Protect the Northernmost Dugong

   The Dugong is an internationally protected species. In Japan they live only in Okinawa.They used to be seen commonly all around the Okinawa and Amami islands but the population drastically declined due to a number of causes. Only a small number remains around the Okinawa Islands. They are now threatened with extinction.

Saving Okinawa's Dugongs From Extinction 

What Kind Of Animal Is A Dugong?  

  Dugong is a herbivorous marine mammal. Normally, a dugong is from 2.5 to 3 meters long and weighs about 300 kilograms. Dugongs live along the beaches of the Indian Ocean and in the warm waters from Asia to Australia. The Okinawa dugong is the northernmost member of the species. The world population of dugong is estimated to be about 100,000 most of which live around Australia, but the other groups are cut off and endangered.

The only food dugongs eat is "seagrass" (NOT seaweed) a plant which grows in shallow waters along the beaches, so they have to live close to humans. They are often killed by mistake and sometimes even hunted. A female dugong gives birth to only a few litters during its lifetime. It is, therefore, difficult for any isolated dugong population to recover once its numbers decline.

A dugong will eat about 10 percent of its body weight in seagrass in a day. Environmental damage close to the shore can be harmful to seagrass colonies and may endanger the dugongs' survival.    @

Isnft Our Nation Protecting Dugong?

  The dugong is designated as a Natural Monument and its hunting is prohibited. Both the Ministry of Environment and the Okinawa Prefecture include them in their Red Data Books. Officially, dugong is recognized as a species highly vulnerable to extinction in the wild. However, in spite of repeated warnings from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to provide more effective measures for dugong protection, the Japanese government has failed to act. @@

What Forces are driving Dugong to the Verge of Extinction?

  There are four major threats to the dugongfs survival.

1) the wide use of fish nets in their habitats: dugongs can easily drown in them.

2) the destruction of an important part of the dugongfs habitat,the coral reef: unexploded bombs and shells are disposed of by detonating them in the sea.

3) damage to the coastal environment caused by changes in land use or development: mud and pollution. 

4) the destruction of the dugongfs feeding places. In the last ten years 38 artificial beaches have been made. More than any other place in Japan, the Okinawa shoreline is now covered with unnatural beaches where seagrass cannot grow. And without seagrass, dugongs cannot survive.

  Beside these there is another urgent threat to their habitat; the planned relocation of the US Marine Base in Futenma to Henoko, Nago City. The bay at Henoko, rich with the seagrass and an important refuge for dugongs, is going to be filled in to build a new base. 


Will The New US Base Be Built? 

  Japanese government is trying to carry out the new base plan by brute force. However, the Nago citizens and the whole of the Okinawa people are strongly opposed to the plan. They wish to have Okinawa free from military bases and become an Island of Peace. They would like to see their island be a place where people can coexist with dugongs. The local elders and supporters have been holding a sit-in on the Henoko shore for more than 2500 days (as of mid-April, 2011) in protest against the new base plan. The will of the people of Okinawa stands strong. The Okinawans will never give in to the pressures from both Japanese and American governments.  

Our Dugong Protection Activity@

Our Actions

   The Association to Protect the Northernmost Dugong has its eTeam Zan' Office in Nago City, Okinawa. The Team is active in several areas of dugong protection. (eZanf is the Okinawa term for edugongf.)

(1)       Continuous monitoring of the dugongfs habitats

Dugongs uproot the sea grass as they graze. This leaves white bands on the sand, called the dugong trenches. By studying these trenches we can learn how many there are and how much they eat. We regularly observe the trenches to find out how the animals live. 

(2)       Research history and culture related to dugong

In order to protect dugong it is necessary to reconstruct a social system enabling the people and dugong to coexist. For that purpose we have been researching, since 2004, history and culture related to dugong.

In various parts of Okinawa many historical records related to dugong are found. Quite a number of dugong related legends expressing reverence of nature are known. Some of such legends match historical records of the Meiwa Tsunami of 1771. 

(3)       Public relations for dugong

We invite grass-roots groups to join us in researching the dugong habitats. Frequent study sessions and observation tours are organized to deepen the knowledge and understanding of dugong and the coral reef ecology.

(4)       Encouraging local actions to create effective dugong protection measures

The military base problem has long tormented Okinawa. The plan to build a new base is a heavy burden for the citizens of Nago. We shall, however, continue to seek practical measures for dugong protection together with the Nago Mayor Inamine who pledged never to allow a new base, either on land or in the sea.  

What Can You Do Now To Protect The Okinawa Dugong?@

Join Us ! We Are Recruiting New Members

Annual membership fees:

  General \3,000

  Junior (under the age 18) \1,500

  Family \5,000

  Supporter \10,000

 We shall mail our bulletin eItajii no Mori ni Idakaretef (Embraced by the Itajii Woods) to the members. 

How to remit: 

(1)  Postal order:

Account number 00160-8-761009

Remittee: Inoue Sumio Jimusho

(2)  Bank account:

Mizuho Bank Kiyose Branch (#731)

Ordinary deposit account number 1148731

Remittee: Hokugen no Jugon wo Mimamoru Kai@

You Are Welcome To Join Our Action In Various Ways

  Submit your articles to our bulletin; join us in the editing, printing and mailing of the bulletin. Join us in our public meetings, our negotiations with the administration and our research activities.

@Contact Us

(1)  Okinawa Office (Team Zan Office)

905-0011 Miyasato 4-12-8, Nago, Okinawa c/o Masako Suzuki

Tel,Fax 0980-43-7027

Cell phone 090-8032-2564

(2)  Tokyo Metropolitan Area Office

352-0032 Niiza-shi 2-1-7-309 c/o Sumio Inoue

Tel,Fax 042-492-1641 

(3) To contact in English

Kenichi Iyanaga

355-0227 Senjudo 497-4, Ranzan, Hikigun, Saitamaken

Tel 090-8024-7151 

Home Page:

Some part of our HP is still under construction. We apologize for the delay.

Look forward to more later.


The following is our group's 2009 report to the UNEP:

Grassroots Action To Save The Northernmost Dugong

From Extinction  

November 27,2009

  By Masako Suzuki (Association to Protect the Northernmost Dugong)




Northernmost Dugong

  The dugong (Dugong dugon) is a marine mammal belonging, with the manatee, to the order Sirenia. It lives in tropical and subtropical coastal areas from the Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific where the Okinawan population occupies the northernmost extent of its range. The total dugong population is estimated at around 100,000; most of them off the coasts of Australia, while many of the other isolated local populations are in danger of extinction. In Japan the dugong is designated a Natural Monument; it is listed as a vulnerable species in the IUCN Red List (VU A1cd 2,000). The UNEP report on dugong (2002) also warns that it will become extinct in Japan unless protection measures are taken very soon. (Ref: Addendum #1.)   


The History of the Okinawan Dugong

  There was formerly an abundant dugong population spread throughout the Ryukyu Archipelago. Dugong bones have been excavated from many shell mounds and archeological sites in the same area. Dugong meat was eaten and its bones crafted. During the Ryukyu Dynasty dugong meat was used as tribute paid to the Ryukyu Court and to the Chinese Emperor. There are numerous traditional songs, sayings and folklore related to dugong. The dugong population suffered a sharp decrease due to over hunting over the late 19th century and early 20th century. The use of explosives to hunt dugong during the post-WWUfood crisis caused a further decline.  Today, the dugong has disappeared from much of its former range with only a limited number observed off the Main Island of Okinawa.

  In 1972, the Japanese government designated the dugong as a Natural Monument. In 1993, the capture of dugong was made illegal by the Living Aquatic Resources Protection Act. In 2005, Okinawa Prefecture designated the dugong as Endangered. Two years later the Ministry of Environment included the dugong in its Red List (Vulnerable IA) recognizing the extremely high probability of extinction in the wild in the near future. Furthermore, in 2008, the IUCN 4th International Convention adopted a resolution recommending, for the third time, that special measures for the dugong protection be taken by both the US and the Japanese governments. However, no effective measures have yet been taken. (Ref: Addendum #2.)


The Okinawan Dugong and US Bases

  In 1998 the existence of a group of dugong near the northern limit of their historical range off the east coast of the Okinawa Island was confirmed but nothing was done at the time to protect this small population. The reason for this inaction was that the area where the dugongs were located coincided with the proposed site to relocate the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, an item agreed in a deal based upon the Japan-US Security Treaty. This prompted groups of citizens to start their own conservation campaign. In 2004, when the government began a preliminary construction survey, which involved drilling into the seabed within the dugong habitat, a sit-in was started in Henoko.  Anti-base demonstrations and awareness of nature conservation reached new heights, such that in October 2005, the government was obliged to abandon its original plan of reclaiming a part of Henoko Bay. However, during negotiations on the re-organization of the US Forces, a new plan for building a base on the coast at Henoko was put forward and, in May 2006, over the heads of local people, the national government reached an agreement for a new base at Henoko and O-ura Bay. (Ref: Addendum 3,hKen-min Taikai (A Rally by the Okinawans)h)


Threats To The Okinawan Dugong


  There are four principal dangers facing the dugong in Okinawa:

1.    Fatal entanglement in fishing nets,

2.    Disposal of unexploded ordnance; the left-over from WWU,

3.    Degradation of the marine environment due to development,

4.    Construction of a replacement for the Futenma Base at Henoko, a major source of the dugongfs sole food: seagrass ( Halodule spp., Cymbodocia spp., Thalassia spp., etc  i.e. not gseaweedh).

  Because of development, particularly on the southern and western coasts of Okinawa, Henoko Bay now contains the largest of the few remaining seagrass beds in the prefecture.   

  The current plan for the Futenma relocation, to be completed by 2014, includes a part of the Camp Schwab on Henoko Cape as its site. A part of the O-ura Bay, rich in seagrass and adjacent to Camp Schwab, is chosen to be land-filled. The environmental impact assessment is being pushed through for the project. It is, however, becoming increasingly likely that the effects on dugong and other wildlife will not be reflected accurately in the EIA report. Presently, the Japanese EIA system lacks any proper function to halt development harmful to the ecosystem. As in such cases as the Isahaya reclamation project and the air port at Ishigaki, even though scientists presented contradictory evidence and protested the unsuitability of the EIA and its conclusions, it is presently the normal state of affairs in Japan for such projects to be steamrollered through.

  Apart from the effects that building a new base will have on the seagrass beds and other elements essential to the dugong habitat, there are other activities which are destroying the habitat on a daily basis. US forces hold military exercises that damage the beaches and coral reefs, while the explosive destruction of unexploded ordnance destroys the marine ecosystem, adding to the stress on the dugongfs fragile habitat and hastening the countdown to extinction.

To prevent these and the other two causes of dugong decline, and to form a conservation plan to control the use of the habitat, more research into the physiology and ecology of the dugong in Okinawa is essential.

(Ref. Addendum 4, Common US Forces Exercises)


Grassroots Action to Protect Dugong


  Our Association (APND) started its activities in 2007 by forming a team to investigate the dugongfs habitat by means of a survey of feeding trails on the seagrass beds.

By exposing the slipshod assessment methods of the Okinawa Defense Facilities Bureau and the realities of the ongoing destruction with modest, grass-roots monitoring of the environment, the Association has become an effective element in the conservation of the dugong.

On another tack, we contributed to a case at the federal court in San Francisco against the US Department of Defense (Okinawa Dugong v. Gates, N.D.Cal., C-03-4350) which recognised the cultural and historical significance of the dugong as well as its status as a natural monument in Japan, finding the Department of Defense (DOD) in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and requiring it to consider impacts of a new airbase on the endangered Okinawa dugong in order to avoid or mitigate any harm. Much of the evidence of the cultural, social and historical value of the dugong originated in the groundwork of the APND, and we hope the result will provide an educational basis for improving the ethics and value judgements of a future society that can live in harmony with the dugong.

(Addendum 5; Dugong habitat survey by grassroots people)



  In 10 years of conservation campaigning the plight of Okinawafs remaining dugong has gained attention at home and abroad, but the threat to its existence has, if anything, increased. The local peoplefs sit-in to protest the seabed drilling survey (a direct physical threat to the dugongfs habitat) has continued since 2004. The governmentfs repeated flouting of its own laws regarding environmental assessment threatens the dugong and the local population.


  In order for our efforts based on modest field survey to be fruitful it is essential that we are trusted by the local people and enjoy their cooperation. National policy may seem to defy any protest, but with the people we shall continue to stand up to it. Daily monitoring of the dugongfs habitat by the local people makes them familiar with scientific methods and will provide a basis for them to draw up their own road-map for effective dugong protection.

  In addition to the Futenma relocation plan a project to transfer a military helipad in the northern part of the Okinawa Island close to the Yambaru Forest adds to the deterioration of the ecosystem. The forest and the sea constitute one whole ecosystem. The protection of the dugong habitat is directly connected to the conservation of the arboreal ecosystem.

In our efforts to encourage more Okinawans to commit themselves for the cause of dugong protection, we are emphasizing that the dugong legacy is an important part of the history and culture of Okinawa. We have made a number of proposals concerning environmental education programs and local nature conservation projects.

  After we submitted our 2008 UNEP Report a power-shift occurred both in Japan and US. The Okinawans, with the most of the US bases in Japan concentrated in their island, now face a new situation. Having been victimized by the US bases and deteriorating ecosystem, the people are watching closely to see if the new catchphrase: gPeace, Human Rights and Ecologyh adopted by the new leaders will lead to a genuine change.

  The unfair nature of the Japan-US Status Agreement attached to the Security Treaty and attendant human rights abuse in Okinawa, and the threats to the dugong are parts of the same picture. We pray that President Obama will become aware that the people here sincerely wish peace to return to their island and be able to coexist with the dugong: their partner throughout history.

  Just as American citizens and Conservation groups hold dear the endangered manatee in Florida, the citizens of Nago and Okinawa Prefecture also cherish the dugong.

  If the leaders of the two countries disappoint the Okinawan peoplefs expectations to be treated as equals to the citizens of the Japanese Mainland and of the US, and carry out this project, ruinous to their future, both the Hatoyama and Obama administrations would destroy the peoplefs faith in them and be remembered as destroyers of the Okinawan natural environment.   


(Translatorfs note: The title for this article is changed, with the authorfs consent, from gCitizenfs Action to Conserve the Ecosystem and to Combat Disruption of the Northernmost Dugongfs Habitat by the US Military and to Protect the Okinawan Dugong from Extinction Prompted by Relocation of the US Futenma Baseh.)