TOKYO, June 25 (Xinhua) -- A sea-based protest was held in Okinawa Prefecture on Monday by residents demonstrating against the central government's plans to reclaim land from the sea to build a replacement facility for the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
Around 70 canoes and a number of other small vessels were used by the demonstrators who faced off with patrol boats from the Japan Coast Guard, according to local media reports.
The demonstration happened in the pristine and environmentally delicate Henoko coastal area of Nago where the new U.S. base is expected to be relocated to.
Currently the base is located in the densely populated Ginowan district.
Calls from local residents and officials have become more vociferous of late, with Okinawans wanting the base moved off the island or out of Japan altogether.
The protesters were holding placards saying "Don't build a U.S. base here!" and "This area and its beautiful sea must be protected."
The central government began constructing seawall in April last year, triggering a number of protests from locals who wish to see their base-hosting burdens lifted and the local environment protected.
Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, yet the tiny sub-tropical island accounts for just a small fraction of Japan's total landmass.
As well as shouldering the majority of U.S. bases and being victims of U.S. base-linked workers' criminal activities, which span rape and murder, driving under the influence of alcohol, as well as a steady flow of accidents and mishaps involving U.S. military aircraft, the new location for the base has an extremely delicate ecosystem unique to Okinawa that the locals desperately want to protect.
The overall plans for the new base involve 157 hectares of land being reclaimed from pristine waters off the Henoko area and the building of a V-shaped runway.
Officials in Okinawa have stated that the reclamation work runs contrary to the national biodiversity strategy of Japan as it is damaging an ecosystem unique to the region.
Environmentalists have 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 Porities 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.
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.
Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, a staunch opponent of the central government's plans to relocate the base and an advocate for lightening the base-hosting burdens of local residents, said he plans to retract the approval given to the state's landfill plan by his predecessor.
This move will almost certainly see the local and state governments return to their legal jousting over the issue.