Australia: Dugongs bouncing back around Cairns

Dominic Geiger The Cairns Post 10 Aug 16;

AN aerial survey of dugong populations south of Cairns has shown the sea cows are slowly recovering after cyclone Yasi destroyed much of their primary food source.

Seagrass meadows have been making a comeback across North and Far North Queensland after being badly damaged in the Category 5 storm, and fresh dugong trails have recently been spotted in Cairns’ Trinity Inlet.

Last week, a James Cook University aerial survey found evidence the dugongs, listed as vulnerable in Queensland, were once again breeding in waters south of Cairns.

The dugong population north of Cairns was less impacted by the cyclone, and is considered more healthy than that along the more urbanised coast.

Marine biologist Mark Hamann, of JCU’s Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research, said surveys immediately after the 2011 cyclone showed massive seagrass destruction and no evidence of breeding.

“Immediately in the years after cyclone Yasi, seagrass was really decimated along the coast,” Associate Professor Hamann said.

“That would have affected dugongs because if they don’t get enough food, they don’t breed. As seagrasses have recovered, dugong surveys have found the calving rates have resumed.”

Associate Professor Hamann said marine debris, boat strikes, and climate change remained the biggest threats to dugongs in Queensland, and dismissed suggestions traditional hunting was having a major impact.

“Traditional hunting is not the problem from an animal population stability point of view,” he said.

“There are so many other threats we need to consider.”

In October, Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch, Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg, and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion announced a government crackdown on illegal and “cruel” hunting of dugongs and sea turtles.

They flagged moves to ­introduce more “no-take” zones.

In June, the Gunggandji Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreement was signed, with traditional owners agreeing to cease turtle and dugong hunting around Green Island, Michaelmas Cay and Fitzroy Island.

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