Cyclists peddle conservation message

Ten bikes, ten weeks, six islands and four thousand kilometres. This weekend an international group of green minds, including former edie reporter Sorcha Clifford, will assemble at Japan's most northerly point, Wakkanai, to make their way down the archipelago promoting sustainable living as they pedal.

The dugong

The dugong

This will be the ninth tour for the Bicycle for Everyone's Earth (BEE) charity, which was set up ten years ago by foreign residents in Japan who wanted to make their living a little bit more environmentally friendly.

In order to fulfil their potential as an awareness through action group the riders take a pledge to eat vegetarian, produce minimal waste, eat and buy local produce and tour Japan in the most sustainable way possible.

This year the BEE team will be holding events including joining a craftsman who utilises rice waste in his work, holding an information booth at the famous Kodo Earth Festival on Sado Island and presenting to a range of sports and environmental organisations in Tokyo including the Global Sports Alliance.

BEE 2006 is also lending support the a campaign to save Japan's last remaining dugong, also known as sea cow, which swim in the waters of the sub tropical island chain of Okinawa - Japan's most southerly prefecture.

Only about 50 of the creatures now live in Japan's seas - the most northerly population of this species which inhabit the western Pacific and Indian oceans.

The mammals' home at Henoko Bay in Okinawa is now under threat as the US Defence Department is trying to push forward its plan to build a US marine airbase on top of sea grass beds - the sole food of the dugong.

Campaigners are worried about the effect the development would have on the dugong's food from soil run off, and fear construction noise and base activity would drive this already endangered species out of Japanese waters altogether.

The dugong is said to hold a special place in Okinawan culture, thought to warn of typhoons which hit the islands every year. The US and Japanese governments have amended their plans for the airbase at Henoko in light of local opposition, but campaigners say the new proposals do little to safeguard the mammal.

Currently a law suit is being filed in the US against Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary for his department's part in pushing ahead with the Henoko airbase. The Department's actions, according to the American-based Centre for Biological Diversity, violate the US National Heritage Protection Act (NHPA) which prohibits US involvement in any activity which would threaten cultural heritage anywhere in the world.

Campaigners in Okinawa and America are trying to raise money for an alternative environmental impact assessment (EIA) which they say would stand alone from the official Japanese government EIA.

Taiko Kudo of the Okinawan citizen's group, the Association to Protect the Northernmost Dugong, said the majority of Japanese EIA's give the green light to projects, even if they are destructive to the environment.

"If serious environmental damage is predicted by an EIA there should be a zero option, to halt the progress. But this option does not exist in Japanese assessments," said Ms Kudo.

Peter Galvin from the Centre for Biological Diversity, the group spearheading the case against the Defence Secretary in the US, believes the proposed airbase at Henoko should be abandoned and existing airbase facilities should be utilised.

"We hope to prevail through legal, political and other means to defeat the base construction plan. The U.S. and Japanese governments did conclude at one point that they didn't need the new base, that the US could combine [existing sites]. So, we know it is possible," said Mr Galvin.
The BEE team will be meeting the dugong campaigners on completion of their ride in Okinawa to make a financial contribution to the alternative environmental impact assessment funds.

By Sorcha Clifford



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