Mar 15, 2011

2011 is Pacific Year of the Dugong!

In the Pacific Islands region, the dugong is important in many traditions and cultures. Some of the most important remaining dugong habitats are in the Pacific region.
2011 has been declared the Pacific Year of the Dugong. This regional campaign aims to increase protection of dugongs and their habitats by raising awareness, improving knowledge and fostering to save Dugongs partnerships for conservation of dugongs and their habitats.

What are dugongs? Does Singapore have any dugongs? What can I do for dugongs in Singapore?

What are dugongs?

From ARKive
From the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme website: Dugongs are large marine mammals and are the only strictly marine herbivorous mammals. They feed only on seagrass. They are sometimes called “sea-cows” and are usually found in shallow waters protected from large waves and storms. The word “dugong” derives from the Tagalog term for “lady of the sea”.

Why the Pacific Region?
From the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme website

In the Pacific Islands region, the dugong is found in the waters of six SPREP members (Australia, Papua New Guinea, Palau, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu). It is important in many traditions and cultures. Some of the most important remaining dugong habitats are in the Pacific region.

How threatened are dugongs?
The dugong is considered vulnerable to extinction on a global scale. Dugong numbers have decreased in many areas and some populations have now completely disappeared.

In the Pacific, the status of dugong populations is generally unknown. However, the dugong population in Palau can be classified as critically endangered of extinction.

What does the campaign hope to achieve?
The campaign objectives of the Pacific Year of the Dugong 2011 are:
  1. Promote awareness and conservation of dugongs at site-level targeting key stewards and the fishing industry;
  2. Reduce dugong mortality from human activities;
  3. Improve status information and promote sustainable management of dugong populations and protection of their habitats at the national level through effective and practical national legislation and policies;
  4. Advance partnerships and secure resources for long-term support for dugong conservation in the region.
Community management

Dugongs have high cultural value and are a valued source of food, medicine and artefacts. Dugongs feed in shallow waters often within areas that fall under traditional ownership or community fishing grounds. Commercial fishermen, particularly fishermen that use gillnets, also use areas where dugongs occur. Dugong mortalities from by-catches in gillnets, boat strikes from commercial operations are significant. SPREP and partners will work to strengthen community-based initiatives within the following focus areas:
  • Identifying and protecting dugong feeding areas in range states;
  • Improving information bases to be used by communities and schools;
  • Strengthening community and industry involvement to reduce threats from over-harvesting, habitat destruction, by-catch, and marine pollution.

What can you do to help?
From the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme website

Stop excessive and illegal hunting
Many countries have laws that control the harvesting of dugong. Respect the law. In the absence of national laws, respect relevant traditional laws and use the precautionary approach.

Develop appropriate legislation
Some countries may not have laws to protect dugongs and some laws may not be adequate to effectively conserve dugongs. Effective legislation is necessary.

Consider the impacts of coastal development on sea-grass habitats in the EIA processes
Coastal development easily impact negatively of sea-grass beds on which dugongs and other marine organisms rely for food. Environment Impact Assessment processes need to incorporate these impacts.

Minimize impacts from gillnets
Dugong mortality from gillnets is high. Minimize drownings by setting gillnets in areas not frequented by dugongs and never leave nets unattended to enable freeing of any caught dugong. Do not dispose old nets in the sea or on the shore.

Control boating where dugongs occur
Dugong mortality from boat strikes is increasing due to growing fishing and marine tourism activities. Slow down your boat and be on the alert for dugongs when in areas where dugongs occur.

Protect important habitats for dugongs
Seagrass beds are of vital importance to the coastal ecosystem.
Conservation work for dugongs would also benefit a host of other marine organisms that depend on seagrass for food and shelter.

Start and support dugong conservation work
The status of dugong in most Pacific Island range states is unknown. This is due mainly to the absence of in-country dugong programmes. Priority should be given to establish dugong programmes at both community and national levels.

Spread the word!
Share what you know about dugong with your friends, family and communities. Learn about local conservation projects in your country and find out what you can do to help.

More media articles about 2011 Pacific Year of the Dugong.

Does Singapore have dugongs?
Yes! Dugong feeding trails have been seen on Chek Jawa!
Dugong feeding trail on Chek Jawa
Sadly, a large dead dugong was found washed up on Pulau Tekong, Jun 06.
Photos from Raffles Museum news.
There have also been other sporadic sightings. More about dugongs in Singapore on the SWiMMS website and wildsingapore fact sheets.

In Singapore, can I make a difference for dugongs?
Yes you can!

Spot any dugongs in our waters?
Bravo! Before you go and buy 4D, share your sighting with the Singapore Wild Marine Mammal Survey (SWiMMS). Email or fill in their on-line reporting form with as much information as you can. More on how to tell apart marine mammals in our waters.

Protect Singapore's seagrasses
Join TeamSeagrass to help learn more and protect the amazing seagrass meadows that dugongs depend upon!

Help with abandoned driftnets
A few of us are trying to gather data to understand the issue, as well as to remove these nets and fish traps. More about Project Driftnet Singapore.

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