Student documents Okinawa conservation efforts | Characteristics

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On the coast of the Henoko region on Okinawa Island, Japan is Oura Bay, known for its rich diversity of marine life and blue coral colony.

According to marine biologists and conservationists from Okinawa, the construction of a new airstrip at Camp Schwab, a United States Marine Corps base, will damage coral and pose a threat to marine life. The project was announced over 20 years ago and construction began in October 2015.

Oura Bay is home to more than 5,300 marine species and the largest colony of blue coral (Heliopora coerulea) in the world, according to Mission Blue. Construction could disrupt ocean currents that carry nutrients and filter out debris that corals need to survive.

In 2019, Kaiya Laguardia-Yonamine, a sophomore student at the University of Hawai’i in Mānoa, set out to raise awareness about the destruction of Oura Bay. Its documentary, “Our Island’s Treasure,” highlights the struggle of the Uchinanchu people to protect native lands and preserve marine life.

“These elderly people, who are survivors of the war, in their 80s and 90s, in wheelchairs and with canes, are protesting peacefully and putting themselves on the front line,” she said. “They’re doing die-ins, lying on the ground to prevent construction trucks from entering the camp on their way to the ocean.”

What Laguardia-Yonamine saw on her first visit to Henoko almost broke her heart.

“Not only are they physically injured and kidnapped, but the concept, the idea of ​​protecting your native land and having it taken away, hurts and it’s different to see it in person,” Laguardia-Yonamine said.

She and her friends organized fundraisers for her to return to Henoko for three weeks to create the documentary. “I knew I couldn’t just go home to Oregon and pretend nothing was wrong,” Laguardia-Yonamine said. “I’ve never touched a camera before, but I feel like it’s so much more important to see and hear what’s really going on. ”

Her mission was to bring the stories of her people to an audience outside of Okinawa. “It’s not just an Okinawa problem, it’s a problem for everyone,” Laguardia-Yonamine said. “Everyone is affected by this in one way or another. You don’t have to take world-changing actions to make a difference. Just start the conversation.

For more information, visit riseforhenoko.com. To watch “Our Island’s Treasure,” visit riseforhenoko.com/documentary.

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