Fear and Hope in Oura Bay

SUBHEAD: The Oura Coral Reef Ecosystem is the last intact one in Japan! US military actions threaten it.

By Katherine Muzik on 15 January 2015 for Asian-Pacific Journal -

Image above: Oura Bay's expansive cathedrals of blue coral is at least 5,000 years old. From original article.

On a sunny September day, last year, I tumbled from a diving boat into the bright clear blue sea of Henoko’s Oura Bay, feeling both fear and hope.  Would the corals living there still be fine, as they had been during my previous visits in years past?

Or would they and other marine life here be suffering and dying from various negative impacts of human behavior (toxic  runoff, sedimentation, garbage, ocean acidification, global warming, overfishing, etc.) which are steadily and inexorably killing coral reefs all around the world?

As I breathed through my SCUBA regulator, and peered through my mask, slowly descending, my worries vanished.  I saw waving red sea fans, a resplendent school of silvery Fusiliers, the Okinawan Prefectural fish, and countless beautiful and healthy corals. I was filled with joy! I felt I had returned to the seas of my childhood!  I swam like a turtle, slowly down and around a huge colony of Porites, over 7 meters tall, a huge golden colony, with no blemish at all.

I admired its perfection with gratitude, and then kicked my feet to swim happily through Oura’s expansive cathedrals of blue coral, to see my other old coral friends, at the so-called “Coral Museum”, many at least 5,000 years old. (Blue coral, Heliopora coerulea, has been declared by CITES to be a vulnerable species, on its way to extinction. Here at Oura it is fine!)

I felt so safe.  I had healthy corals all around me, fish, crabs, sea anemones, sea cucumbers, clams, everything fine as far as I could see.  Meanwhile above in the boat, awaiting me were my Okinawan friends, Nakasone the captain and Iha, a retired high school chemistry teacher. Guiding me was another friend, the expert diver, Makishi. I was snugly embraced by a SCUBA harness borrowed from friends at local Snack Snufkin divers.

What happiness! I was honored that these friends and others had invited me to visit, to help them explain to the world, how important the corals of Oura Bay are. Can’t everyone understand how unique and diverse this Bay is?  It is miraculously healthy.

There are thousands of species living here: over 420 species of coral, 1,040 species of fish, 403 species of algae and seagrasses, of sea 1,974 mollusks (including 120 kinds of sea slugs) and 753 crustaceans. More species inhabit the associated mountains, forests, rivers, mangroves, and tidal flats! Many are new to science and still undescribed. Feeling ecstatic, I returned to the blue sky above, but, oh no, there was an American military ship hovering nearby the dive boat. I was again filled with worry and fear.

From our boat, I could see long red floats, marking the area near shore where exploratory drilling had already begun, despite the appalling absence of an official Environmental Impact Survey. The dugongs have fled, but the corals and seaweeds cannot move away.  They will surely perish if we cannot stop construction.

Besides diving at Oura, during my 10-day visit to Okinawa in September, I sang my Waterdrop song in Japanese with children gathered at Sedake beach in Oura. I rallied with elderly and youthful protestors at the gate at Henoko’s Camp Schwab, and with more protestors at Takae, still defiant, daily, against Ospreys there.

I participated in two Symposia, one at Okidai (Okinawa University) with former Okidai President Sakurai and Architect Makishi, and one in Nago with Nago Mayor Inamine, held a press conference in Naha with the Governor’s team, and finally, as I left Japan, another one in Tokyo at the Parliament, with Itokazu Keiko, Okinawa’s Diet Member.

Why did I agree to travel all the way from Kaua’i to Okinawa to dive at Oura Bay?  Coral reefs all around the world are in great peril.  They are dying in the Florida Keys, in the Arabian seas of Oman, at the Great Barrier Reef. (As a Marine Biologist, I have studied corals in Florida, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Belize, Barbados, Mexico, Florida, Kenya, Fiji, the Philippines, New Caledonia, Australia, Tahiti, Hawaii, Japan and Okinawa, and therefore am acutely aware of their decline.)

When I lived in Okinawa, during 1981 to 1988, I dived from Amami Oshima down to Yonaguni, and I was shocked to discover that even then, most of the coral reefs of the Ryukyu Archipelago were dead or dying.

When I returned to Okinawa to live there again, thirty years later, from 2007 to 2011, I was further saddened. Even more of the island has been over-developed and paved with cement, and thus, the remaining life nearby in the sea is even more threatened by man’s activities on land. To destroy Oura’s unique and remarkable reef purposefully, to obliterate it, which will certainly happen with the current US-Japan military-industrial plan, is simply, not acceptable.

The 3.5 million truckloads of fill to be brought there will not only destroy the place from where it is removed, the fill will block and change Oura Bay’s incoming life-giving currents. A quick calculation shows, an impossible 9,589 trucks per day every day for a year, or about 959 trucks a day for ten years, destroying the reef and bringing dust and noise and more CO2 pollution.

Again, not acceptable! It breaks my heart to see videos of my old friends lying (perhaps even pushed by police) on the highway pavement outside Camp Schwab gates, and protesting from boats, risking arrest and their lives, to avert this tragedy.

I fear that Abe and Obama have forgotten compassion and history.  Their actions are not helping to end racism, militarism and extreme materialism, the giant triplet of societal and environmental destruction.

They are ignoring the facts:  the Oura Coral Reef Ecosystem is the last intact one in Japan! 80% of Okinawans are against the military airport construction at Oura! In November, Onaga, running for Governor on an anti-base platform, and anti-base Mayor Shiroma of Naha, were both elected by landslides!

Although this US military Base is purportedly part of Obama’s plan to “contain China”, also in November the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, warned that empires always fail, that disputes must be resolved peacefully! With eighty percent of the Japanese population voicing opposition to the bases, the LDP suffered major setbacks in the Okinawa election.

Nineteen different Japanese scientific societies have now publicly added their support to protect the life of Oura!

So yes I have fear, but I also have hope. My Uchinanchu (Okinawan word for Okinawan!) friends are indomitable.  I salute their tenacity, awareness, and political savvy.  As a democracy, Okinawans have the right to choose.  For example, they can choose to exchange a Marine Base for a Marine Sanctuary! Yes!

They can choose to perpetuate peace, not conflict, to perpetuate conservation, study and jobs in ecotourism for local students, scientists and fishermen.  Instead of Harm, let’s choose Harmony! Together we might be able to continue to keep this fabulous ecosystem safe.

Together we will help protect the rare and endangered blue coral, the dugong, the Okinawan rail, and Pryer’s Woodpecker.  We will speak for the fishes, seaweeds, seafans and clams!

I take great hope from my steadfast Uchinanchu, who now, in January 2015, continue to protest the US-Japanese military activities, as I remember the words of Rachel Carson in her book, “Sense of Wonder”:

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

• Marine biologist Katherine Muzik Ph.D., is director of Kulu Wai, Kauai, Hawai’i.  She has many years experience of research in Japan and Okinawa.

Protesters oppose Okinawa base relocation

SOURCE: Koohan Paik (koohanpaik@gmail.com)
SUBHEAD: U.S. Navy container ship remained stuck on a coral reef near Okinawa for a second day.

By Francis Burnsmon 26 January 2015 for Asahi Shimbun -
 Thousands of people, including lawmakers, formed a human chain around the National Diet Building in Tokyo on Jan. 25 to protest the central government’s planned relocation of a U.S. air base in Okinawa Prefecture.

“(The government) turns a deaf ear to the will of Okinawans and forges ahead with the relocation plan,” said Natsumi Okubo, a 28-year-old company worker from Tokyo’s Koto Ward, who joined the demonstration. “As mainlanders, we want to think about what democracy is all about.”

Organizers of the protest, including pacifist groups, put the turnout at around 7,000 people.

The central government is moving ahead with the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma currently in Ginowan to the Henoko district of the city of Nago, both in Okinawa Prefecture.

Voters in Okinawa Prefecture expressed their opposition to that move on Nov. 16 by electing Takeshi Onaga as governor over the incumbent, Hirokazu Nakaima, who had supported the relocation plan.

Onaga, who wants the U.S. air station moved outside the prefecture, says he has been repeatedly snubbed by the central government in his attempts to discuss the Futenma plan.

Among the participants in the Jan. 25 protest were the winners of Okinawa’s four single-seat constituencies in the Dec. 14 Lower House election who had all campaigned on a platform of opposing the relocation plan.

In Tokyo, they jointly condemned the Abe administration’s moves in relation to the project.

USNS ship stuck on Okinawa coral reef

SOURCE: Koohan Paik (koohanpaik@gmail.com)
SUBHEAD: U.S. Navy container ship remained stuck on a coral reef near Okinawa for a second day.

By Francis Burnsmon 1 January 2015 for UPI News -

Image above: File photo of Sgt. Matej Kocak at sea. From original article.

A total of 131 people, including 38 civilian crew members, 26 Marines and 67 soldiers, were still on board the USNS Sgt. Matej Kocak, officials said, with another ship on the scene if they need to be evacuated. The vessel was leaking but the amount of water coming in is "manageable," Lt. Charles Banks, a spokesman for the 7th Fleet, said.

The 821-foot vessel struck a reef or outcropping Thursday 6 miles off the coast of Okinawa. High tide that night did not free it.

Banks said experts were headed to the area to determine what must be done to get the ship off the reef. In one case in 2013 the USS Guardian had to be taken apart to remove it from a reef in the Philippines.

Banks said the divers had not discovered yet if any live coral was damaged when the ship struck.

"The safety of the civilian crew members and the environment are our top priorities. So we're taking this situation very seriously and will continue to investigate the situation until it's resolved," Cmdr. William Marks said Thursday.


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