Thailand: Parks Dept orders dugong project to be revised

APINYA WIPATAYOTIN Bangkok Post 25 May 17;

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation has ordered Hat Chao Mai's national park chief to revise the dugong monitoring project in Trang province after an activist group lodged a complaint, saying equipment used in the project could endanger the rare species.

The three-month project started in April. Satellite tracking tools have been attached to three dugongs in the area as scientists study their behaviour and habitat.

Parkpoom Witantirawat, coordinator of the Saving Andaman Network Foundation, who opposes the project, said some dugongs have moved out of the national park to Libong island since the study started.

He said the satellite tracking device could be dangerous as its long cords could get caught around fishing equipment.

He said it did not make sense to monitor three dugongs especially when local fishermen have been working closely to protect the animal by setting aside an area of 100,000 rai to protect its habitat. They avoid using any fishing equipment in the area which could be harmful to the mammal.

However, he admitted some kinds of fishing equipment not friendly to dugongs can still be found, so further talks are needed with fishermen.

Thailand has about 160 dugong, with five or six dying a year. More than 90% are living in the Libong Non Hunting Area and the rest in Hat Chao Mai National Park.

Sontham Suksawang, director of the National Park Office, said the department was worried about conflicts between forest officials and locals over the dugong.

"The national park's chief has acknowledged the department's concerns and understands we need scientific research and local participation. Research should be done based on local acceptance," he said.

He said the department has suggested the Hat Chao Mai National Park chief could review the project or the satellite microchips could be removed.

The project is carried out with the support of the National Science and Technology Development Agency, with the aim of studying the dugong's habitat so the department can set up a proper management zone for the species, which is now at risk of extinction due to the harm inflicted by fishing devices.

Manoch Wongsuryrat, chief of the Hat Chao Mai National Park, wrote on Facebook recently the project was being carried out under the supervision of scientists from Chulalongkorn University.

He said the research team was striving to protect the dugong population based on scientific methods.


Noted veterinarian backs satellite tracking of dugongs after NSTDA suspends project
Khanittha Sitong The Nation 29 May 17;

Chulalongkorn University Veterinary Medical Aquatic Animals Research Centre director Nantarika Chansue has said that a scheme to fit dugongs with satellite transmitters was not harmful to the animals.

She also said the tracking programme would benefit future research and conservation of the marine mammals in the Trang Sea and help to reduce mortality rates.

Nantarika’s comments on Monday followed an earlier announcement by the Pathum Thani-based National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) on its website that it would suspend the fitting of transmitters on to dugongs at Hat Chao Mai National Park’s Koh Mook on the grounds that the technology was involved in unresolved disputes over reported negative impacts.

The NSTDA, which is sponsoring the research project, said it had decided to end the tracking programme while urging stakeholders to contribute to the sustainable conservation of dugongs. Chulalongkorn veterinarians had been participating in the project by conducting health checks and collecting blood samples.

Nantarika said the research team prioritised the safety of dugongs, while research methods were subjected to careful scrutiny and conformed to international standards.

She also cited medical reports that showed the stress hormone levels in dugongs’ blood did not exceed normal levels as they were fitted with transmitters.

“While people might feel otherwise, the scientific test gives clear evidence [about the dugongs’ stable health],” she said adding that officials had not just relied on data from the trackers but had dived with the dugongs to observe their behaviour.

She said the data on dugong behaviour and migration patters would help to formulate a better conservation strategy based on zone management. She added that many villagers had joined in conservation efforts to ensure dugong habitat would not be disturbed by human activities.

Dugong deaths that had been blamed on the satellite transmitters were actually caused by them getting caught in fishing equipment, Nantarika said, adding that fishermen should refrain from casting nets in conservation areas if they wanted to spare the marine mammal.

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