Malaysia: Johor allocates RM1mil to set up dugong sanctuary

The Star 15 May 16;

JOHOR BARU: The state government has allocated RM1mil to set up a dugong sanctuary along the eastern coastline of Johor.

Johor Fisheries Department director Zamani Omar estimated that about 30 to 50 dugong had been spotted between Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tinggi here in recent years.

“We believe that many of the dugong from south Johor, which was once a dugong haven, had migrated to the eastern part of the state.

“The migration is probably due to developments taking place at the southern part and the abundance of seagrass near the eastern islands,” he said when contacted.

Zamani said the state was planning to have a watch area for the dugong around the areas including a marine passage area to stop vessels from passing through.

“We have come across several instances where the dugong succumb to injuries from being hit by ship propellers. This can be avoided if vessels do not pass through the area where dugong usually roam,” he added.

He said the allocated funding would include the implementation of awareness campaigns, adding that regulations to protect sea cows would be drawn up, too.

The project and new rules on sea activities near the two islands are expected to be implemented by next year.

“Plans to open up a marine park, to be named Taman Laut Sultan Iskandar, are also underway as we want to create a place where the public can catch a glimpse of the creatures and educate the young ones.

“We have already started engaging with consultants, who will probably work with their foreign counterparts, to realise our plans,” he said.

Zamani said the state government would go all out to turn Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tinggi into an agro-tourism area, where fishing activities are also likely to be prohibited.

‘Create database to monitor population’
The Star 15 May 16;

JOHOR BARU: Researchers should create a database to monitor the population and movement of dugong within Malaysian waters, especially in southern Johor, Malaysian Nature Society Johor chairman Vincent Chow said.

Such a database would give a clearer picture on the mammal, including its migratory pattern and dietary habits, he said.

Chow said researchers should take a similar approach to what was being done on animals such as elephants and tigers which were being tagged to keep track on them constantly.

“Currently, there is no specific monitoring system for the dugong species unlike for whales,” he said in an interview.

Chow said that data compiled through tagging could help authorities to locate the mammals and keep an eye on them.

The dugong population in Johor is facing extinction, especially in the southern-most areas of the state, due to vast land reclamation works.

Johor’s western coastline areas of Sungai Pulai and Pulau Merambong near Gelang Patah and some parts of Tanjung Bin in Pontian are rich with the type of seagrass, which is the main diet of the dugong.

Chow believes that the dugong would be extinct within 25 years if no measures were taken by the authorities to look into the problem.

With no documentation on the dugong in Johor waters, he said information was based purely on the sightings by local fishermen.

Like salmon which would return to its birthplace to spawn, he said dugong was known to return to Sungai Pulai, Pulau Merambong and Tanjung Bin to give birth as the seagrass areas were the perfect hideout for them.

The dugong, he said, were “loyal” to their partners.

“If their partners die, the other one would experience depression and would also die not long after,” he said.

Chow said the decline in the number of dugong and other marine life in the areas was a clear indication of the deterioration of water quality.

The tell-tale signs were already there as the number of dugong in those areas had already declined by half now compared to those seen in the 1960s and 1970s, he added.

Chow suggested that the authorities engage with stakeholders, including environmentalists, scientists and non-governmental organisations and local communities, on matters related to the environment.

“We are not against any development but it must take into consideration of the environmental impact.

“Developers should strictly adhere to the guidelines and it all boils down to enforcement,” he said.

Dugong on the verge of extinction

GELANG PATAH: Known also as the sea cow, the dugong which inspires many tales like mermaid legends is on the verge of extinction.

The vast development taking place in south Johor, once a popular feeding ground for the mammal, has led to its dwindling numbers.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, local fishermen would often catch a glimpse of the shy creatures as the area was abundant with spoon seagrass, their main diet.

Kampung Sungai Simpang Arang fishermen chief Tang King Tong, 68, recalled an incident in 2004 where a 30kg baby dugong got caught in a fishing net.

“We convinced the fisherman to release the dugong back into the sea as it was still a baby. Its mother was roaming near the shore, as if waiting for her baby,” he said in an interview.

Tang claimed it was a common practice in the old days for the orang asli community to consume dugong meat, which tastes like beef.

“Orang asli would also carve the bones into a pipe,” he said, attributing this to a belief that smoking it would help reduce body temperature when a person was suffering from high fever.

There was also talk then that the tear drop of a dugong was believed to have magical powers, so bomoh would use it to make love potions, he claimed.

Tang, who has been living in the village since marrying his orang asli wife in the 1960s, claimed there were about 200 to 300 dugong five decades ago but their number had decreased by more than half.

“Besides dugong, it was common to spot crocodiles, turtles and bottlenose dolphins in the waters of Gelang Patah, especially near Pulau Merambong which is rich with seagrass.

“The seagrass is a favourite breeding ground for prawns, crabs and seahorses as the marine creatures can camouflage themselves on the seabed or hide from their predators there,” he said.

He believes that the number of sea creatures had dipped due to land reclamation works.

Another fisherman Rolen Oni, 35, said he first saw a dugong, almost 5m long, when he was about 16 years old.

“Three adult dugong had died in the past due to injuries from ship propellers near the port area.

“Some people have even offered financial rewards to fishermen in the village if they manage to catch a dugong alive,” he claimed.

Kampung Pendas Laut fishermen head Azman Adan, 45, said the 3km sandbar from Tanjung Kupang to Tanjung Adang was the dugong’s favourite playground before the development of a seaport within the area.

“It was once common for fishermen to spot dugong grazing on the seabed during low tide but now it has become a rare sighting,” said Azman, who has been going to sea since he was 13 years old.

The most recent spotting of a dugong was on May 5 when the carcass of one was found floating in the sea near the village after it had apparently sustained injuries from fishing nets.

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