How do coastal dwellers conceive of the ocean and their relationship to it? This is a particularly intriguing question in southwestern Japan, where villagers were, for centuries, banned from entering the ocean and utilizing its contents. My dissertation research focuses on how the work of international conservation is transforming the ocean, a question that requires first understanding the material and discursive relationship that residents have with nearshore waters. My summer research therefore probed into how the ocean is symbolically presented during a sea festival, how the ocean’s topography is materially reorganized for cultural reasons, and how residents and reef tourists are prompted to viscerally understand the seascape through government and NGO-sanctioned activities. In future research I will use this ethnographic data to analyze how present-day reef conditions and conceptions illuminate the shifting regional relationship of Okinawan residents over the past century.