Thailand urged to protect dugongs

mathaba.net 6 Feb 09;

PHUKET, Feb 5 (TNA) - The Thai government was urged Thursday to seriously and urgently protect the dugongs in Thai Andaman coastal waters, as the mammals are on the brink of extinction -- if appropriate conservation measures are not quickly implemented.

Marine mammal academic Kanchana Adulyanukosol at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre said that there are now only about 200 dugongs left in Thai-Andaman waters, where they are usually found in sea waters off Trang, Krabi, and Phang-nga.

"The sea cows are at risk of extinction in 20-30 years. If no concrete measures are implemented to conserve the species, no one will ever again see the sea cows in Thai waters," the expert on distinctive rare species warned.

Currently, Ms. Kanchana said, a master plan to conserve sea cows and seagrass, which was its main diet, was drafted, but has yet been submitted to the Cabinet.

It was believed that if the scheme is implemented, it will help, in a certain extent, to preserve the sea cow population, she said.

Public awareness activities to realise the importance and seriousness of the dugongs' problems is necessary were also recommended, she said.

Ms. Kanchana added that seven dugongs had been found dead during the past six months.

The causes of death are varied, she explained. The latest case is a five-year-old dugong weighing 122 kilogrammes which was found dead at a beach in Trang.

According to the Centre's autopsy, the dugong died of shock when it was caught in the nets of a fishing trawler.

Dugongs are commonly found in the Indian and Pacific oceans, Australian waters, and the western coast of southern Thailand. The dugong population has fallen rapidly, she said, and now is in critical condition due to hunting and accidental drowning in nets.

In addition, the dugong's ability to produce its offspring depends on the availability of seagrass, its main diet, which has now become scarce due to water pollution.

The mammal has also been listed as vulnerable to extinction at a global scale by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

A bad week for dwindling dugong population
Phuket Gazette 7 Feb 09;

CAPE PANWA, PHUKET: A top marine mammal researcher is drawing up a national action plan for conserving the country’s dwindling population of dugong, three of which were found dead this week.

“We have a national action plan for dugong and seagrass in Thailand to conserve the seagrass habitat, reduce mortality, continue monitoring numbers and study behavior,” said Kanjana Adulyanukosol of the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC).

Miss Kanjana was quoted by the state-run Thai News Agency earlier this week saying the dugong faced extinction locally within 20 or 30 years if the government does not take urgent action to protect seagrass beds, their natural habitat.

About 200 dugong remain in waters along the Andaman Coast, she said.

Setting up the action plan would lead the way to Thailand signing an international memorandum of understanding (MOU) on dugong conservation, which has already been signed by 42 countries.

“The MOU was established by the Australian government after meetings held in Thailand in 2005 and 2006. Then in 2007 there was a meeting for the first signings in Abu Dhabi, followed by another meeting in Bali in 2008,” she said.

Thailand has not signed the MOU because it has to do more to co-ordinate the efforts of the six government agencies involved, including the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, Fisheries and Marine Transport departments and the Foreign Ministry.

“I think Thailand is going to sign the memorandum very soon,” she said.

Coastal development and sedimentation is the main long-term threat to seagrass beds, she said.

"However, for an individual dugong the greatest threat is from human activities and various kinds of fishing gear,” she explained.

“This has been a very bad week for us. We got one dead dugong from Satun on the first of February, then two on February 3: one each from Trang and Krabi,” she said.

An examination of the first two carcasses revealed that the dugong had thick blubber – indicating that they were healthy at the time of death.

“The second one was still fresh. There were no traces of outside trauma and the pericardium was full of liquid, which indicates a sudden death, possibly from shock. So we guess that it went into sudden shock and died, probably drowning from fishing activity,” she said.

Overall seven dugong deaths have been reported to the PMBC, she said.

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