Aerial view over the exclusion zone off Camp Schwab - US navy base near Oura Bay.

Two military airstrips are no mean feat to build. They are massive pieces of military infrastructure, from which expensive, machines take off at great, deafening, speed. And that's exactly what is about to happen on the island of Okinawa in Japan.

Thousands of tonnes of landfill will be poured over Oura Bay – home to the very rare Japanese Dugong. No one know how many of these 'cows of the sea' remain, perhaps just a handful, or perhaps 50. But what we do know is that their numbers are dangerously small.

The rare Japanese dugong, found in Okinawa, Japan

The Camp Schwab US Military base on Oura Bay is one of several on the small island, a reminder that Okinawa, despite nearly 19 years of popular protests, is home to a burdensome number of US bases. As the US' geopolitical focus shifts East, this tiny island, and the people and wildlife that call it home, are getting caught in the middle of a global game of military posturing. And no one is winning.

As a recent New York Times editorial said: "Japan wants the security of America’s military presence but it wants Okinawans to pay for it".

What could be lost

Greenpeace Japan found fresh evidence from underwater investigations revealing extensive dugong feeding troughs in seagrass beds just 3km from Oura Bay; while around the exclusion zone, large concrete blocks had flattened coral reefs.

Greenpeace Japan activists holding underwater banners at concrete block reading: "Save the Dugong" (English) and "Make Henoko and Oura Bay a Marine Protected Area" (Japanese) near Oura Bay.

If these rare feeding troughs can be located just a couple of kilometres from Oura Bay, then one can only imagine how critical the seagrass bed near the military base is to the dugong's existence.

BaySnorkelers measuring up a dugong feeding trough in a seagrass bed near Oura Bay

The bay itself is home to 5,300 species, 262 of which are endangered, including the loggerhead turtle, clown fish, and the Japanese dugong. It is also home to the largest seagrass bed in Okinawa, on which the dugong feed.

The bay's rich ecosystem risks collapse unless the government immediately halts construction, and establishes a marine reserve to protect Okinawa's natural heritage.

And that’s why we are here.

For nearly 10 days, the Rainbow Warrior has been caught in what seems like a purposely spun web of bureaucracy that prevented us from our mission: to investigate the impacts of a US military base on the home of the last Japanese dugongs. And only today were we allowed to set sail for Nago, not too far from Camp Schwab on the other side of the island.

Crew from the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior at the Sedake beach in Okinawa, Japan.

Meet the grandparents taking on the might of the government

Up to 80% of the local population are against the expansion, and they are sick of being ignored. But this is the strength of Greenpeace and why your support matters. Together, we can strengthen their voices, and share their stories with the world.

People of Okinawa protest to try to block the planned expansion of a U.S. military base at Camp Schwab, Nago, Okinawa, Japan.

These organised, and formidible, non-violent activists have shaken me to my core. They embody the very spirit of non-violent direct action that Greenpeace values above all else. They are fighting against powerful forces.

People of Okinawa protest to try to block the planned expansion of a U.S. military base at Camp Schwab, Nago, Okinawa, Japan.

As one 86-year old woman had emblazoned in Japanese on her t-shirt: "The way not to lose is to not give up until you win". 

We salute you.

Will you stand with us? Join us here.

Kazue Komatsubara is an Oceans Campaigner with Greenpeace Japan.