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Okinawa Dugong v Rumsfeld

Monday 7 March 2005

A judge has ruled that the US Defence Department must consider the fate of the dugong in plans to build a new airbase on a coral reef on the coast of Okinawa. She made the ruling under the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires US government agencies to conduct a full public process before undertaking activities outside the United States that might impact the cultural and natural resources of other nations.

Dugong

Photo: Suehiro Nitta

There is a press release by earthjustice.org, from which I have taken this quote:

In her 31-page decision, Judge Patel held that the endangered dugong, listed on Japan’s register of protected cultural properties, is a cultural property entitled to protection under the NHPA. The judge rejected the government’s argument that Japanese cultural properties like the dugong do not merit protection under the NHPA, finding that such argument “def[ies] the basic proposition that just as cultures vary, so too will their equivalent legislative efforts to preserve their culture.” The judge instructed the parties to conduct discovery on the extent of Department of Defense involvement in the project and the extent of harm the proposed airbase will cause the dugongs in Okinawa’s waters.

“This is a significant victory for the people of Okinawa concerned with the preservation of their cultural heritage,” commented Marcello Mollo of Earthjustice, who is representing the plaintiffs in the US lawsuit. “With this ruling, Judge Patel has acknowledged the Dugong deserves its day in court.”

“Scientists believe that only 50 dugong survive in the waters off Okinawa,” said Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This project, if constructed, would very likely drive the Okinawa dugong into extinction, so it’s worth thinking twice before taking any irreversible action.”

filed under Environment

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