Best of our wild blogs: 16 Aug 13

Oriental Pied Hornbills and the foods they take
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Walking the Ridge
from Otterman speaks

Singapore's shores featured in Nature of a City
from wild shores of singapore

Down Memory Lane - Clipper
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Saving and being saved by the waterways: An interview with Eugene Heng

Straits Times 16 Aug 13;

Susan Long meets Eugene Heng, chairman of Waterways Watch Society. Mr Heng has been patrolling Singapore's waterways over the last 15 years by boat, clearing rubbish and educating others, one by one, to do the same. Now he's trying to persuade the Government to let him roll out fun and affordable activities with a conscience at parks and reservoirs.

HE IS the uncrowned King of the Longkangs. Over the last 15 years, Mr Eugene Heng has spent every Saturday and Sunday rooting around for rubbish.

The chairman of environmental group Waterways Watch Society (WWS) and his volunteers spend two hours on boats patrolling the Singapore, Kallang and Geylang rivers, which empty into the Marina Reservoir. They fish out plastic bags, styrofoam boxes, beer cans, discarded shopping trolleys, rattan chairs and whatever else escapes the 25 full-time workers who clean up the Marina catchment each day.

They also go out on bicycles and kayaks looking for damaged embankments, fallen tree branches or pollution, so they can alert the authorities and action can be taken quickly. In addition, they make weekly appraisals of how well the Kallang Riverside Park's grounds and toilets have been cleaned. The results are then submitted to the overseeing National Parks Board (NParks).

The rest of the week, Mr Heng conducts almost daily workshops to demonstrate the impact of litter and pollution on the environment, educating school students, corporations and foreign visitors.

The 64-year-old, who was awarded the Public Service Medal in 2005 for his efforts in keeping Singapore's rivers clean, now wants to move beyond supervision and patrol.

Of late, he has been making an impassioned case to the Government to grant WWS more direct "ownership" of Kallang Riverside Park. He hopes to be given full responsibility to manage it on behalf of NParks, with some financial support, in a manner similar to how New York's Central Park is run.

In 1998, the City of New York signed a management agreement with the Central Park Conservancy, a civic group dedicated to restoring the park to its former splendour as America's first major urban public space. The Conservancy was made responsible for the operation and maintenance of the playgrounds, benches, wildlife, trash removal, and events and programmes for volunteers and visitors. Central Park has since set new standards of excellence in park care and become a model for urban parks worldwide.

"My vision is that we've been in Kallang Riverside Park for 15 years, and we can actually do more if we're given more stakeholders' empowerment and authority in managing this public park for the public.

"The agencies overseeing the park's greenery, water, bridges, drains, beach - NParks, PUB, the Land Transport Authority, the National Environment Agency, the Urban Redevelopment Authority - all have specific missions. In contrast, we, as an NGO, see the functions not in a silo but laterally. We can recommend changes and activities to beautify and enhance the park that we ourselves want, which will hopefully reflect what the people want."

Discount for litter

MR HENG has also been canvassing the Government to consider using non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as WWS to roll out more fun, affordable and educational water activities at Singapore's reservoirs, such as rubber duck water-cycling, family kayaking and bicycle rental.

His proposal: Allow a trusted NGO to manage a fun activity centre, where every "customer" must listen to an obligatory five-minute overview of the reservoir and learn about its history, its value and the need for everyone to play their part in practising good social graces while enjoying the environment.

"For a small token sum, Singaporeans can enjoy cycling or kayaking at our reservoirs. If they manage to bring back any piece of litter, a discount will be given to them," he suggests.

Permits cannot keep being awarded on a commercial basis, as they are now, he stresses - instead, they can be given at a special low rate to non-profit NGOs.

"Often, the authorities will consider only commercial business options for such public parks. But the result is more litter. We cannot think only of making money all the time. It's also about engaging the public in terms of good social behaviour, the value of water and sustainability issues."

What he has in mind is education leavened with "fun, enjoyment and lifestyle" for all generations. He envisages a place where the elderly can sit, relax and enjoy the fresh air, without paying anything, and watch the young dragon-boating and flying kites.

He concedes, of course, that giving people greater access to reservoirs and parks runs the risk of more litter, pollution and illegal activities. "That's a reality, but we have to manage that. If we give that as an excuse not to do much with public parks, then what's the point of building them? If we don't try a new public-private partnership model, we will never know," he says.

Meanwhile, he likes to jest that WWS is already the "guardian of the foundation of the Nicoll Highway Merdeka Bridge". The organisation's office, set within the Kallang Riverside Park, occupies over 30,000 sq ft literally underneath the Merdeka Bridge.

The disused space used to be where weekend squatters and foreign workers slept occasionally. They also stored household goods, weekend party gear and even housebreaking tools within the crevices of the concrete boulders. Now, the area is fenced up and used to house the society's many buggies, boats and bicycles for patrols. There is also a recycling point and a classroom, where WWS hosts visitors.

While he waits on the authorities' decision, Mr Heng is already scaling up and out.

WWS, which has nearly 100 members and 300 volunteers, mostly tree-hugging retirees, students and foreigners, recently hired its first full-time staff. It has also received Institution of Public Character (IPC) status, which allows it to collect tax-exempt donations.

Soon, it will set up its first branch office, in a container on Punggol Waterway, to teach residents how to enjoy and protect their environment. If successful, WWS hopes to spread out to other new towns around Singapore.

Indoorsy man

THE oldest son of a salesman and secretary mother, Mr Heng never cared much for nature while he was growing up in a Mackenzie Road terrace and later a Bukit Timah bungalow. At Anglo-Chinese School and Raffles Institution, he was decidedly "indoorsy", playing badminton and chess and producing Shakespearean plays. He went to work after national service armed with a banking diploma from the Chartered Institute of Bankers in London.

It was at work that he learnt to care for nature.

When he first reported for work as a bank teller at the Bank of America at Raffles Place in 1968, bumboats still chugged along the inky Singapore River, a cesspool of oil spills and garbage. He used to lunch at the old Boat Quay hawker centre, watching as chicken bones and leftover sauces were tossed into the river. But watching the river being cleaned up from 1977 to 1987 made him realise "change can happen, but the harder work is sustaining it".

While climbing the ranks at the foreign bank, he was made its environment coordinator for Singapore and then Asia in the 1980s. It was then that he instituted practices such as the recycling of ink cartridges and double-sided printing. He was also appointed to the Government Parliamentary Committee (Environment) from 1995 to 2000 and sat on PUB's board from 2001 to 2005, where he learnt about water conservation.

When the committee decided in 1997 that a society should be set up to help monitor and protect the cleaned-up Singapore River and Kallang Basin, he was "arrowed". A "green convert" by then, he accepted.

That was how a man who did not know how to swim or operate a boat came to register WWS in 1998. Armed with $50,000 in seed money from the Environment Ministry and granted the space under the Merdeka Bridge, he donned a life vest to do Sunday boat patrols and went about getting a boat licence.

Meanwhile, by 2002, he had worked his way up over 33 years to the highest post a local could attain at the Singapore branch of the Bank of America - country operations head. Soon afterwards, however, he resigned following the discovery that two of his former staff had siphoned funds from the dormant accounts of deceased customers. He had no hand in the fraud, but took responsibility as "captain of the ship" as the employees implicated were under his watch. He was 52 then.

"It felt like I was walking away from family," he recalls of his abrupt departure after just a day's notice. "Many people told me a person in my position would have gone into depression. But it never crossed my mind even once."

Mr Heng cast off his old life as a bank executive and dived headlong into his new cause - saving Singapore's waterways - which gave him a new lease on life in return. He increased the frequency of patrols and expanded the mode to include bikes and kayaks, submitting weekly reports and photos of his observations to the relevant authorities. He launched into water advocacy and education, and now, he hopes, park management. For the past 12 years, the Christian has lived off his savings and this ethos: "Do what your heart wants you to do. Don't do it for money. Don't do it for other people."

His wife, retired bank officer Betsy, and their 34-year-old daughter and 32-year-old son affectionately call him the Longkang King (King of the Drains).

Others are less kind. He has been called a "foolish man doing the Government's job for free".

Environmental education is a lonely, oft-spurned cause. "There's a lot of money in Singapore for charity, especially to help the poor, the sick, the elderly and kids, but it's not diverted to environmental sustainability," says Mr Heng. "The returns from that are very intangible, with results that take a long time to show. With the poor, you can immediately give them an ambulance or a pair of crutches or pocket money.

"But, my friend," he leans in and warns, as waves of Nicoll Highway traffic rumble ominously overhead, along with a sudden peal of thunder, "don't take the environment for granted. The haze came just like that."

Background story

Eugene Heng on...

His worry for Singapore

“We are too dependent on other people cleaning our dirty linen. And the majority of them are foreigners, who may not want to do this job in future. We are also running out of space to dispose of our waste. At the rate we’re going, with our expanding population, in 35 to 40 years, if we do not manage to reduce our waste by recycling and not buying more than we need, very soon, Semakau Island will be full. We can’t buy another island. We can’t throw our waste to our neighbours’ house. We can’t throw it into the sea. So it’s important that we do our part to stretch this 35 to 40 years to maybe 100 years.”

His hope for Singapore

“I would really love to see Singapore reach the standard of Japan and Korea in environmental sustainability, where there are less bins around, where people don’t throw things whether anyone is looking or not. Tell others to comply with good social norms and recycle where they can. My vision is for a less-dependent Singapore with fewer cleaners supporting us. I understand there are about 70,000 people in cleaning services here and 12,000 alone in waste management. My goal is to see this number more than halved in five years’ time.”

Danger of lawlessness

“In Singapore, if you pass laws but don’t enforce them, it encourages lawlessness. Those who are penalised are the law-abiding. You see people throwing things anywhere they like. You see cars parked at junctions, zebra crossings, even zigzag lines. When enforcement officers do come by, the habit is to chase the offender away rather than fine him. Is that working hard or smart? All these things add up and encourage people to say, ‘Ah, never mind.’”

His pet peeve, plastic bags

“The damage of plastic bags is horrendous. We’ve found many fish suffocated by plastic bags in the reservoir. They clog up the drains, create stagnant water and floods. Why do people throw away plastic bags? It’s a lack of social understanding. What I don’t want, I just throw. We should start off with all supermarkets charging for plastic bags, not just one retailer or only once a week. Those are half-baked initiatives. You want to do it, be serious. Maybe it should be legislated.”

Related links
Waterways Watch Society

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Endangered Javan Raptor Sightings Indicate Possible Recovery

Dyah Ayu Pitaloka Jakarta Globe 15 Aug 13;

Malang. Conservation officials have hailed an increase in the population of the Javan hawk-eagle, Indonesia’s national bird, at an East Java national park, after earlier sounding the alarm about a drastic drop in the population of the endangered species.

Elham Purnomo, the coordinator of the Javan hawk-eagle monitoring program at the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, said on Thursday that 10 distinct individuals had been spotted between July 31 and Aug. 4, up from just five from the last survey in September last year.

He added that further positive news was that four of the hawk-eagles sighted were juveniles, indicating that conditions at the park were conducive for the birds to continue breeding.

“Our next step will be to look for their nests. We’ve received reports from residents in the area about possible nesting sites,” Elham said.

Conservation officials need to identify actively used nests in order to get a more accurate estimate of the hawk-eagle population, he added.

Rosek Nursahid, the chairman of the conservation group ProFauna Indonesia, welcomed the announcement, noting that in 1997 only two of the birds of prey were spotted in the area.

He said the observation could be an indication that the condition of the forests there were still good for the Javan hawk-eagle. However, he warned against being overly optimistic about a recovery in the population, saying that a more comprehensive survey, including identifying nests, was necessary.

The Javan hawk-eagle, found only in the last remaining tracts of forests in Java, is classified as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and the trade in the bird is strictly prohibited under national and international regulations.

An estimated 600 individuals remain in the wild, but their numbers are threatened by habitat loss and poaching for the illegal pet trade.

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Malaysia: Money will be used to protect marine life

Zazali Musa The Star 16 Aug 13;

JOHOR BARU: Visitors and scuba divers to six islands off Mersing waters in Johor’s east coast will have to pay fees to do so from next month.

To be imposed by the Johor National Park Corporation (PTNJ), the money collected from visitors would be used to maintain, protect and conserve the marine life in the areas, state tourism executive councillor Datuk Tee Siew Kiong said.

He said the fees would also help the corporation to finance its programmes, including educational and research related activities to educate the public on taking care of the marine environment.

“We don’t think the fees will stop tourists, including foreigners, from visiting our beautiful islands in Mersing,” Tee told reporters at the opening of the 13th state assembly seating by Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim ibni Sultan Iskandar at Bangunan Sultan Ibrahim here on Thursday.

Tee believed that visitors to Mersing islands would welcome the decision to impose the visiting fees as most of them were nature lovers and were concerned about protecting the marine environment.

He said the numbers of scuba divers would be limited to 100 divers on one island at any one time, while there were no restriction on those planning to stay at 20 holiday chalets on the six islands.

“Last year, we received about 260,700 visitors to the six islands and as of July this year, about 157,096 have visited them,” said Tee.

He also said the Mersing Marine National Park made up off Pulau Aur, Pulau Besar, Pulau Pemanggil, Pulau Rawa, Pulau Tinggi and Pulau Sibu would be known as Sultan Iskandar Marine Park.

Malaysians aged 18 years and above will be charged RM5 to visit the islands and foreigners RM10, while Malaysian students below 18 years old have to pay RM3. The scuba diving fee is RM200 per person from 7am to 5.30pm daily.

Meanwhile, the corporation’s director, Suhairi Hashim, said plans were in the pipeline to limit the number of visitors to the Endau-Rompin National Park.

Mersing Marine Park renamed
New Straits Times 16 Aug 13;

JOHOR BARU: Taman Negara Johor Kepulauan Mersing (Mersing Marine Park) has been renamed Taman Laut Sultan Iskandar.

The world famous marine park is a popular getaway for both local and foreign divers and marine lovers.

Sultan of Johor Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar announced the new name in his royal address when opening of the 13th state assembly sitting at the Sultan Ibrahim buildingBangunan Sultan Ibrahim in Bukit Timbalan here yesterday.

The ruler said the state was blessed with nature attractions, including Gunung Ledang and the marine life off Mersing waters.

He called for a committee to be set up to monitor the marine activities at all islands off Mersing waters.

Sultan Ibrahim also said conservation efforts needed to be emphasised while logging needed to beactivities to be reviewed or stopped.

Meanwhile, state Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said conservation fees at the marine park would be imposed starting next month.

The entrance fee for adults aged 18 and above is RM5 for Malaysians and RM20 for non-citizens.

Malaysians below 18 pay RM3, while for non-citizens, it is RM10. Those below 18 years old is RM3 for Malaysians and RM10 for non-citizens. The diving fee is RM200 per day.

He also said the number of divers is limited to 100 per day per island at all six islands, which have been gazetted within the park.

The islands are Pulau Aur, Pulau Besar, Pulau Pemanggil, Pulau Rawa, Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tinggi.

He also said the Johor National Parks Corporation had spent close to RM1 million on maintenance of the park.

He said the corporation was expected to collect RM1 million to fund be used as conservation fund for conservation efforts and researches.

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Malaysia plays a big role in global trade of sharks, says wildlife network Traffic

Rashvinjeet S. Bedi The Star 16 Aug 13;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia plays a significant role in the global shark trade and was amongst the top ten importers and exporters of shark fin globally from 2000-2009.

It is also a major consumer of shark fin, as well as exporter of shark fins to international markets according to a study by wildlife trade networking network Traffic that was co-authored by Victoria Mundy-Taylor and Vicki Crook.

Traffic's study entitled into the deep: implementing CITES measures for commercially-valuable sharks and manta rays said "Malaysia imported 6,896 tonnes of sharks fins (dried, prepared and salted) from 2002-2009, the fourth highest importer globally."

"Malaysia also caught 231,212tonnes of sharks from 2002 to 2011," which is the eighth highest globally, accounting for 2.9% of the total global reported shark catch during that period.

The top shark catchers between 2002 and 2011 were Indonesia and India who are responsible for over 20% of global catches.

Sabah has banned shark hunting and “finning” under its wildlife conservation laws.

Traffic said that while the situation could have changed since the study period was concluded, data covering the 10 years was generally considered a good indication of trends.

It added that as a signatory to the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), Malaysia has an international obligation to implement measures intended to ensure the international trade in products of the shark species protected under the Convention is both legal and sustainable.

“This may be facilitated by the introduction of requirements to land sharks whole, that is with their fins attached to their bodies, enabling species caught to be accurately identified, a prerequisite for understanding the catches of various species and therefore for determining sustainable levels of harvest,” said Traffic.

It added that as a significant consumer of shark fin, Malaysia should focus efforts on curbing demand for and discouraging the serving of these products.

Currently, there is no ban on shark trading in Malaysia although Sabah has banned shark hunting and “finning” under its wildlife conservation laws.

Sabah wants to have the same legal provision for the state to be included in the federal Fisheries Act 1985. The draft amendment was submitted to the Federal Government last year.

Malaysia a key player in global shark trade, says study
Rashvinjeet S. Bedi and Victoria Brown The Star 17 Aug 13;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia plays a significant role in the global shark trade and was amongst the top 10 importers and exporters from 2000-2009.

It is also a major consumer of shark’s fin, as well as exporter of the commodity to international markets according to a study by wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic that was co-authored by Victoria Mundy-Taylor and Vicki Crook.

According to Traffic’s study entitled “Into the deep: Implementing CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) measures for commercially-valuable sharks and manta rays”, Malaysia imported 6,896 tonnes of shark’s fin (dried, prepared and salted) during the period, the fourth highest importer globally.

It said Malaysia also caught 231,212 tonnes of sharks from 2002 to 2011, the eighth highest globally, accounting for 2.9% of the total global reported shark catch during that period.

The top shark catchers between 2002 and 2011 were Indonesia and India. They are responsible for over 20% of global catches.

Traffic said that while the situation could have changed since the study period was concluded, data covering the 10 years was generally considered a good indication of trends.

It added that as a signatory to the CITES, Malaysia has an obligation to implement measures to ensure the international trade in products of the shark species protected under the convention was both legal and sustainable.

It added that as a significant consumer of shark’s fin, Malaysia should discourage the serving of these products.

Currently, there is no ban on shark trading in Malaysia although Sabah is contemplating banning shark hunting and “finning” under its wildlife conservation laws.

Sabah wants to have the same legal provision to be included in the Fisheries Act 1985.

The draft amendment was submitted to the Federal Government last year.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Nature Society said that while the report was startling, it was not surprised by the finding.

Its head of communications, Andrew Sebastian, said they have pictorial evidence showing finned sharks that were still alive off Pulau Mabul in Sabah and pictures of sharks that were left to die in fishing nets off Pulau Redang in Terengganu.

“We have good laws, but what is lacking is the enforcement and implementation of plans and strategies to act against shark hunters,” he said.

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Australia: Marine mammals under threat from climate change

Kerry Faulkner Science Network Western Australia 16 Aug 13;

CLIMATE change will threaten the survival of marine mammals according to researchers investigating the impact of rising air and sea surface temperatures on Australia’s ocean dwelling mammals.

They warn an increase in dugong mass-strandings could be among the consequences of climate change, in addition to reduced habitats and breeding success.

Their report, Impacts of climate change on Australian Marine Mammals appears in CSIRO’s Australian Journal of Zoology.

The research describes Australia as a ‘hotspot’ for marine mammals with 52 species. Two; the Australian sea lion and Burrunan Dolphin are endemic to Australia.

But it says air and sea surface temperatures around Australia have accelerated from the mid-20th Century and predictions are that the greatest rates of future sea surface temperatures warming will be in north-western and south-eastern Australia.

Deakin University’s Nicole Schumann says the most recent paper is based on CSIRO’s 2012 National Marine Report Card for Australia, which demonstrated climate change was having a significant impact on Australia’s marine ecosystem.

It is a synthesis of available information on the relationships between distribution and populations of marine animals and climate mediated oceanographic processes.

That information includes past WA research in into Shark Bay’s dugong and Ningaloo’s dolphin populations.

The paper says the potential for climate change to produce shifts in marine mammal distribution is of particular concern.

“As distributions shift the dynamics between species, for example competition for food resources, may change and populations may be exposed to new diseases to which they may have no resistance as they come into contact with populations they were previously isolated from,” Ms Schumann says.

In addition, shifting ocean currents like the East Australian Current and the west coast’s Leeuwin Current could reduce fish prey.

The research concludes the capacity of marine animals to survive may depend in part on their ability to alter their diet and foraging behaviours.

In addition, it says more research needs to be done to understand how marine mammals will adapt to climate change, their capacity to do so and whether some groups are more vulnerable than others.

“The important thing overall is to protect critical habitats though for many species, doing this requires more research into their ecology and habitats,” Ms Schumann says.

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Great Barrier Reef dredging could be more damaging than thought

WWF claims report proves that dredging and dumping of seabed sediment near the reef should be banned
Oliver Milman 15 Aug 13;

Dredging could be more harmful to the Great Barrier Reef than previously thought, a government-commissioned report has found, amid fresh warnings over the impact of coastal industrialisation on sea turtles and dugongs.

The WWF claimed the report proved that the dredging and dumping of seabed sediment near the reef should be banned.

Last week, the environment minister, Mark Butler, deferred a decision on whether to allow the dredging of the seabed to enlarge the Abbot Point port, near the Queensland town of Bowen, to allow for the export of more coal.

Butler said that more time was needed to assess a report into the impact of dredging and the dumping of it within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, as proposed by North Queensland Bulk Ports.

The report, undertaken by consultants Sinclair Knight Merz, states that spoil from dredging travels a lot further than previously thought, with dumped sediment capable of being disturbed repeatedly by severe weather. However, it doesn't rule out dumping dredged waste at sea and suggests various locations near current ports that would do the least damage to coral and other marine wildlife.

Previous government analysis, including by the CSIRO, has blamed flooding rather than dredging for rising death and disease among the reef's fauna, in particular the heavily dredged area of Gladstone.

Richard Leck, Great Barrier Reef campaigner at the WWF, told Guardian Australia that about 40m tonnes of dredged spoil would be dumped into the World Heritage Area if all port development projects were allowed to proceed.

"The science has shown that the resilience of the reef is incredibly low at the moment," he said. "The government is spending $400m on improving reef water quality by 1-2% a year, which seems like a crazy amount of money to spend when you're dumping 40m tonnes of waste at the same time.

"There's not enough consideration of the alternatives to dredging, which is an outdated practice. We should be getting a lot smarter about using infrastructure in order to minimise the amount of dumping, especially when ports are operating at 50% capacity on the reef."

The Turtle Island Restoration Network, a US conservation group that visited Australia this week, has warned that coastal development in Queensland could push several species of sea turtle towards extinction.

The Great Barrier Reef plays host to six species of turtle, which are threatened by boat strikes, water pollution and the direct impact of dredging.

"The reef is home to some of the most amazing turtle species in the world, which rely on a healthy environment for their future," said Teri Shore, program director of the network.

"The Australian Flatback lives entirely in waters close to shore and sandy beaches, making them highly vulnerable to coastal port developments and shipping. Leatherbacks, which are also in jeopardy, live more in the open ocean where increased ship movements will take their toll through greater injury and death.

"Ship strikes alone have killed 45 turtles in Gladstone Harbour since the Curtis Island LNG project began, compared with an average of two a year in the past decade."

There are also concerns over the prospects of the dugong, which has suffered from the loss of seagrass, its primary food, from Cyclone Yasi in 2011. Conservationists claim dredging is also to blame for the species' decline.

A presentation compiled by Australians for Animals and sent to the environment minister warns that large numbers of dugongs are being stranded on beaches and that dredged spoil is wiping out vast tracts of seagrass. Industry denies that seagrass is severely damaged by dredging.

Animals Australia said the dugong population on the urban coast of Queensland is "almost certainly on the road to extinction".

"Future port development will ensure the non-recovery of the species," it said. "There has been no attempt by federal or state governments to estimate the cost of losing the dugong population, nor any urgent action to ensure protection of the remaining sparse numbers."

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