Drawing the Sea Near

Drawing the Sea Near

Satoumi and Coral Reef Conservation in Okinawa

C. Anne Claus

How Japanese coastal residents and transnational conservationists collaborated to foster relationships between humans and sea life

256 Pages, 6 x 9 in

  • Paperback
  • 9781517906627
  • Published: November 3, 2020
  • eBook
  • 9781452959474
  • Published: November 3, 2020
  • Hardcover
  • 9781517906610
  • Published: November 3, 2020


Drawing the Sea Near

Satoumi and Coral Reef Conservation in Okinawa

C. Anne Claus

ISBN: 9781517906627

Publication date: November 3rd, 2020

256 Pages

16 B-W Illustrations

8 x 5

"This is a fascinating, original, and important ethnography of how conservation can decolonize itself and the multiple benefits of doing so. In thought-provoking and clear prose, C. Anne Claus has provided a sympathetic and challenging account that will be warmly welcomed by anyone working with, on, or for conservation. It is especially interesting for anyone who wants to better understand how large conservation organizations like the WWF function—and change."—Dan Brockington, author of Fortress Conservation and Nature Unbound

"Claus’ book offers a most captivating and original ethnographic study that brings together several important topics that have hitherto not been put into dialogue, like the way different boarders - ecological, linguistic, social, sensorial- are linked and function as agents in the reconfiguration of human lives."—Contemporary Japan

"Through rich ethnographic engagement with conservationists, and local practices that could be glimpsed through the beautiful interludes, this book is an invaluable contribution to scholarly efforts to decolonise conservation that, ultimately, draws the sea near to the readers themselves."—Ethos: Journal of Anthropology

"An important contribution of anthropological ethnography to the studies of conservation and environmentalism. Concise yet enriching discussions of Japanese and Okinawan center–peripheral relations also make this ethnography an excellent case study and teaching resource for contemporary Japanese society and environmental politics."—American Anthropologist

"The book’s clear prose offers an account of a case study that will certainly be engaging for many environmental scholars across disciplines. We are fortunate Claus made the ethnography personal - storifying it ensures that broader audiences are not deprived of the clear writing and important takeaways of Drawing the Sea Near."—Electronic Green Journal

"In her new book, C. Anne Claus introduces some of the activities of marine conservation NGOs on the islands of Ishigaki and Okinawa. The result is an original, ethnographically rich, and convincingly interdisciplinary monograph of interest not only to environmental anthropologists and Okinawan studies scholars, but also to scholars working in development studies, political ecology, and nature conservation more broadly. "—Japan Review

"The beauty of the volume lies in it moving beyond simply presenting egregious failures of transnational conversation, as such critiques are already well-documented in the literature, to presenting methodical, well-researched, and rich ethnographic detail that highlights the history of conversation and the need for equity and social justice. The author does so with descriptions and detail that easily conjure up the colours and flavours of the sea and local peoples. "—Anthropological Review

How Japanese coastal residents and transnational conservationists collaborated to foster relationships between humans and sea life


Drawing the Sea Near opens a new window to our understanding of transnational conservation by investigating projects in Okinawa shaped by a “conservation-near” approach—which draws on the senses, the body, and memory to collapse the distance between people and their surroundings and to foster collaboration and equity between coastal residents and transnational conservation organizations. This approach contrasts with the traditional Western “conservation-far” model premised on the separation of humans from the environment.

Based on twenty months of participant observation and interviews, this richly detailed, engagingly written ethnography focuses on Okinawa’s coral reefs to explore an unusually inclusive, experiential, and socially just approach to conservation. In doing so, C. Anne Claus challenges orthodox assumptions about nature, wilderness, and the future of environmentalism within transnational organizations. She provides a compelling look at how transnational conservation organizations—in this case a field office of the World Wide Fund for Nature in Okinawa—negotiate institutional expectations for conservation with localized approaches to caring for ocean life. 

In pursuing how particular projects off the coast of Japan unfolded, Drawing the Sea Near illuminates the real challenges and possibilities of work within the multifaceted transnational structures of global conservation organizations. Uniquely, it focuses on the conservationists themselves: why and how has their approach to project work changed, and how have they themselves been transformed in the process?

C. Anne Claus is assistant professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C.



Introduction: Drawing Near

1. The Airport Problem: Transnational Politics at Japan’s Edge

A Song of Scientific Pluralism

2. Satoumi: Localism, Environmentalism, and the Development of an Oceanic Socionature

Shiraho’s Nearshore Sea (ino)

3. Conservation in Collaboration: Transforming Practices at World Wide Fund for Nature’s Field Station

Seeing the Sea

4. Gustatory Engagements: The Taste of Okinawa’s Sea

Gods and Ghosts of the Sea

5. Transnational Conservation: Compositions, Circumventions, and Conflicts

Sea Stories

6. Touching and Smelling: Challenging Scientific Authority in Coral Encounters