Photo/IllutrationLand reclamation work progresses on the coast of the U.S. Marines' Camp Schwab in the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on Dec. 21. (Jun Kaneko)

  • Photo/Illustraion

NAHA--Okinawa Prefecture has rejected as false Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s remark that rare corals were transplanted beforehand from the site of land reclamation work for a new U.S. military base in the prefecture.

“In reality, it hasn’t happened like that,” Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki said on his Twitter account on Jan. 7.

Opposition parties have also criticized Abe’s comment and will demand an explanation from the prime minister at the ordinary Diet session.

“I want him to make clear what evidence and facts his remark is based on,” Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the Democratic Party for the People, said at news conference on Jan. 9.

In a Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) TV program on Jan. 6, Abe responded to a question on how to win support from Okinawa people for the government’s project to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture.

The governor and his supporters oppose the plan, saying Okinawa already shoulders too much of a burden in hosting U.S. military facilities in Japan. They also said building a new air station for the relocation project would cause irreparable damage to the coastal environment and marine life.

Abe said on the NHK program: “Coral reefs were transplanted before the sand and dirt were dumped in. To reduce the environmental burden as much as possible, endangered corals that had inhabited the beach were scooped up with the sand and transferred to another beach.”

Abe did not specify the exact area where the corals were removed, but critics, including the governor, believe he was talking about the landfill site.

The Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau replanted nine coral reef colonies of endangered Porites okinawensis Veron. But these colonies were in an area outside the 6.3-hectare site where land reclamation work started on Dec. 14.

The bureau targeted corals larger than 1 meter in diameter and some varieties of small reefs. The bureau said these types of coral do not exist in the current landfill site, which is surrounded by protective banks.

The area where the endangered corals were transplanted from is scheduled for future landfill work under the government’s plan.

The Okinawa Defense Bureau has requested the prefecture’s permission to transplant a colony of stylaraea punctata, a near-threatened species, from an area several dozen meters outside one of the protective banks. It has also sought approval to transplant about 39,000 coral colonies inhabiting an area north of the site where land reclamation work has started.

However, the prefecture has not given its approval.

It said the central government broke an agreement, made when a former governor approved the landfill project, to remove all rare coral reefs from the site before the start of work.

“Abe may want to say transplantation of coral reefs has been completed because those that the prefectural government had already approved have been transplanted,” an Okinawa prefectural government official said. “But that would conflict with the stance of the prefecture.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a Jan. 8 news conference that there were “no problems at all” with the coral transplant issue.

“Having received instructions and advice from an environmental monitoring committee (set up in the Defense Ministry), we have dealt with it properly,” Suga said.

An official of the Okinawa Defense Bureau said about Abe’s comment: “We have also set up protective measures at areas near the site where sand and dirt have been placed. He might have wanted to say that the overall transplanting project has firmly progressed.”

(This article was written by Ryuichi Yamashita and Naoki Matsuyama.)