TOKYO, Nov. 14 (Xinhua) -- Japan's central government on Tuesday began delivering crushed rocks by sea to the site of a controversial replacement facility to be built for a U.S. air base in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa.
The latest move by the central government saw protests by locals opposed to Okinawa hosting the majority of U.S. bases in Japan. Protestors took to boats to try and hinder the delivery of the rocks, local media reported.
The delivery of rocks by sea, purportedly to be more efficient than using trucks, comes on the heels of Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga telling U.S. Ambassador William Hagerty on Monday that the heavy U.S. military presence and plans to relocate the base within Okinawa are a form of discrimination against the islanders.
Hagerty said he is committed to reducing the base hosting burdens of Okinawans, while Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Tuesday that bringing in the rocks by sea would be better for the environment.
Onaga, however, asked the Defense Ministry to halt the transportation of construction materials by sea until an agreement is reached between local and central governments, which are currently at odds in a legal battle following Onaga filing a lawsuit in July to halt the construction.
The crushed rocks will be used to build seawalls on the southern side of the construction area in the coastal region of Henoko, in Nago, where the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan will be relocated under an accord inked between Japan and the United States in 1996.
The central government's plan to relocate the base has drawn staunch criticism from Okinawan prefectural officials and citizens, most recently for the damage it may cause to the coastal region's pristine environment and delicate ecosystem, including the possible destruction of a rare type of coral.
Authorities in Okinawa opposed to the construction work fear that sediment to be poured inside the seawalls will be extremely detrimental to the environment.
They stated that the reclamation work runs contrary to the National Biodiversity Strategy of Japan, as it is damaging an ecosystem unique to Okinawa.
Environmentalists also voiced concerns about the materials used for the reclamation work introducing invasive species to the region.
Experts, having surveyed the coral reef at the bottom of the ocean near the tip of one of the seawalls, concluded that the Porites lutea coral, which is part of the reef and just 20 meters away from the tip of the seawall, has a high likelihood of being destroyed by the construction work.
The waters of Oura Bay are also the last home of the highly-endangered Japanese dugong, which is a large marine mammal and cousin of the manatee.
Environmentalists are certain of the species' extinction if the central government's construction continues.
Prefectural authorities in Okinawa have also claimed that the construction work is legally infringing on the rights granted to local fisherman in the coastal region.
The Okinawa chapter of the Defense Ministry, according to local media reports, said Tuesday that 10 colonies of coral designated as endangered species have been found at two points in the construction area.