Why Japan’s dugong population is seriously threatened

The waters surrounding Okinawa, Japan, are home to a particularly rare dugong species. This habitat is threatened by the arrival of man, once again.

If you’ve never heard about the dugong, don’t worry. It is one of the least known marine mammals – very similar to Florida’s manatee – and a shy creature populating the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The calm waters surrounding Okinawa Island, Japan, are home to this rare mammal species, which is particularly dear to the Japanese population.


The Okinawa dugong is now threatened by a project for the construction of an American military base in their habitat.


During the Second World War, Okinawa Island was occupied by Americans. Though the area was formally returned to Japan’s control in 1972, the US’ military presence in the area keeps being solid.


Dugongo © Jason James/Flickr
Dugong © Jason James/Flickr


Dugongs’ habitat thus risks to be wiped out as Washington’s and Tokyo’s governments are negotiating for the construction of an American base in Henoko Bay, an uncontaminated area precious to the dugong.


Not only the construction of the base could threaten this marine mammal’s natural habitat, but also water pollution, noise and light pollution could bring it closer to extinction.


Okinawa’s new Governor stands in favour of the local population, which has been opposing the partnership for the military base construction for many years.


Defying Tokyo, Takeshi Onaga is starting a fight for the conservation of the cultural and natural heritage of this area, of which the dugong is an essential part. This is a fight for human rights of Okinawan citizens, which no longer accept to be exchanged in the name of international diplomacy.

Translated by

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