Thailand: Trang fishermen told to look out for slow-moving male dugong

KANITA SEETONG THE NATION 12 Mar 16;

A SENIOR marine official has urged Trang fishermen to help a seine-entangled male dugong spotted in the area if it gets caught in a dragnet.

Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, the head of Phuket Marine Biological Centre's Rare Sea Animal Division, said the animal was spotted during the division's latest annual survey of the seagrass zone off the province.

"We have been monitoring him and found that this teenage male dugong swims slower than usual," Kongkiat said.

"Although it can still find food by itself, there is a risk that a seine [dragnet] might one day get caught on a big undersea rock and trap this animal under the sea.

"It will die if it can't swim to the surface and get some oxygen."

He told fishermen to alert officials if the animal was injured.

According to an annual aerial survey that concluded on Wednesday, Thailand's dugong population is growing, with at least 15 more sea cows counted in the Trang Sea. Twelve pairs of dugong mothers and calves were found - a positive sign that efforts to conserve the last and largest dugong herd in Thailand has made progress.

Fishermen's groups in the area have cooperated by not using dangerous fishing gear. Still, at least one dugong was found entangled in seine fishing net near Koh Libong.

This year's survey started on March 3 and was made up of 10 gyroplane trips - which count rare marine life including sea turtles, plus dolphins, whales and dugongs.

Kongkiat led the survey with support from other Thai and Japanese researchers.

"This latest survey was very successful. We found at least 150 dugongs in total, an increase from the previous year's 135 sea cows. We also found baby dugongs in the area, which indicated the dugongs' better reproduction condition. The oldest dugong is believed to be about 70 years old," Kongkiat said. Plus Trang's 35,000 rai (5,600 hectares) of seagrass appeared to be healthy, he said.

The survey were first conducted in 2010 and reported a peak of dugong deaths - 13 cases - in 2012.

Last year, six dugong deaths were reported killed, mostly because of hazardous fishing gear, Kongkiat said, adding that the centre aimed to keep the death rate under five a year.

The centre must boost local people's awareness about hazardous fishing gear and rubbish in the ocean to minimise threats to marine life and invite the public to participate in conservation efforts, he said.

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