Thailand: Dugong numbers off Trang up again despite smaller seagrass areas

Khanitta Sitong The Nation 11 Apr 17;

THE NUMBER of dugongs in the sea off Trang has risen to a decade high of 169, according to a recent survey of the “sea cow” population by the Marine and Coastal Resources Research and Development Centre.

Centre director Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, who headed the expert team that carried out the survey from March 24 to 30, said if the authorities could keep the dugong fatality rate at under five deaths a year the population would grow to at least 200 dugongs in four years.

The experts took gyroplane trips and used a drone to count and determine the approximate number of dugongs in an effort to conserve thes rare mammals. This year’s tally of 169 is a gradual increase from 160 dugongs in 2016, 145 in 2015, and 135 in 2014.

The latest aerial survey found more than 10 pairs of dugong mothers and calves – a positive sign that joint efforts to conserve them have made progress.

Kongkiat thanked local fishing communities for helping by not using dangerous fishing gear. However, the team still found one dugong with its tail entangled in a seine fishing net – the same one spotted last year – near Koh Libong, he said.

The dugongs’ habitat also seemed to shrink; a large number of them were found further into Koh Libong’s dugong sanctuary zone, as the Koh Mook and Haad Chaomai National Park areas now see higher volumes of fishing boats and tourist boats, |he said.

Thailand’s last and largest dugong herd was in the seagrass fields around Koh Libong, which have shrunk sharply, from 12,173 square rai in 2006 to 7,306 square rai in 2011. These fields have been decimated by large cargo ships that ply the main shipping route near the island as well as increased sediment levels.

The drop in seagrass meadows, plus fishermen’s use of dangerous tools, have contributed to the dugong herd’s decline.

From 1998-2010, the number of dugongs off Trang was up to 200 but that declined to 150 in 2011, then 135 in 2012 and the lowest total of 125 in 2013.

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