CON­SER­VA­TION IN­SIGHT

DU­GONGS

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Agenda News -

IN CER­TAIN PARTS OF THE DUGONG’S RANGE SEA­GRASS BEDS HAVEN’T EVEN BEEN MAPPED.”

PRO­TECT­ING SEA­GRASS BEDS OFF THE COAST OF AUS­TRALIA IS THE KEY TO EN­SUR­ING THE SUR­VIVAL OF DU­GONGS, SAYS HE­LENE MARSH.

Du­gongs are the world’s only strictly ma­rine, her­biv­o­rous mam­mals and are part of the group known as Sire­ni­ans, or sea cows, that also in­cludes man­a­tees.

They’re found in shal­low, coastal wa­ters from East Africa to is­lands off Aus­tralia’s north­east coast, such as New Cale­do­nia and Van­u­atu. Aus­tralia with a pop­u­la­tion of more than 100,000 du­gongs is be­lieved to be home to the ma­jor­ity of the world’s du­gongs with Tor­res Strait be­tween Pa­pua New Guinea and the tip of Cape York the ‘dugong cap­i­tal of the world’.

They may do well in Aus­tralia be­cause of its wide and shal­low con­ti­nen­tal shelf, which is good for pro­mot­ing the growth of sea­grass on which du­gongs feed, but also be­cause of the low hu­man pop­u­la­tion den­sity.

There are many threats to the species: they’re caught and die in gill­nets and shark nets, and are also hit by boats. Du­gongs are also hunted by some native com­mu­ni­ties in the Tor­res Strait, but while many non-indige­nous Aus­tralians dis­ap­prove of this, it doesn’t de­plete the pop­u­la­tion. Loss of sea­grass beds is another factor, par­tic­u­larly on the east coast of Aus­tralia where beds are be­ing smoth­ered by silt that runs off the land and af­ter ex­treme weather events. And while ef­forts to con­serve sea­grass beds are meet­ing with some suc­cess, in many parts of the dugong’s range they haven’t even been mapped. He­lene Marsh is an ex­pert in dugong ecol­ogy at James Cook Univer­sity.

Du­gongs can be found in coastal and in­land wa­ter of the Indo-West Pa­cific, from East Africa to Van­u­atu. This im­age was taken in the Red Sea.

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