Malaysia: Johor seeks best way to protect dugong

KATHLEEN ANN KILI The Star 19 May 16;

JOHOR BARU: The state government will leave it to the experts to come up with suitable suggestions on the best way to protect and conserve marine life, especially the endangered dugong.

Johor Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said they were in talks with consultants on the setting up of a marine park near Mersing, which will include a dugong sanctuary.

“We will not rule out suggestions to use a tagging system to monitor the movement of dugong. We will also explore other experts’ advice.

“We want to ensure that the method carried out to protect the sea mammal is the most suitable to avoid any future issues,” he said.

Ayub said currently, their focus was on sourcing for the best spot among the islands off Mersing to build the marine park.

He added that Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar was expected to pre-launch the Sultan Iskandar Marine Park in July.

It will just be a soft launch while the operational aspects and mechanisms of creating the park will be discussed in the next six months, he said, adding that RM1mil set aside was just a start-up allocation.

Ayub said the state government would seek more allocations, including from the Federal Government, following discussions with the experts.

For now, the RM1mil would be utilised to identify and measure the exact location, instal buoys to mark the areas as well as to cons­truct a monument for the park, he added.

He also pointed out that it was unfair to solely blame developments as the cause for the dwindling number of dugong along the most southern part of the state.

“We also have to take environmental changes into consideration including water pollution due to the discharge of waste or oil spills as well as the speed of huge vessels passing through the area.

“Our studies show that the islands off Mersing are still rich with the dugong’s staple diet – seagrass. This is likely why the sea mammal has been spotted there more often these past few years,” he said.

The Sunday Star reported on the dwindling number of dugong, also known as sea cow, around southern Johor, which used to be a haven for the shy creatures due to the abundance of seagrass there.

Experts claimed that they have been migrating to the eastern part of the state near Mersing where seagrass is ample.

‘Tagging dugong is costly and may not be feasible’
KATHLEEN ANN KILI The Star 22 May 16;

JOHOR BARU: A tagging system to monitor the dugong may not be feasible due to high costs and low number of the mammal, said Rantau Abang Endangered Marine Species and Turtle Research Division director Syed Abdullah Syed Abdul Kadir.

“The objective of tagging is to obtain their migration pattern as well as to determine their roaming areas.

“But research showed that this approach may be costly as we have to tag at least 50% of its population.

“We will need a lot of tags and a large number of dugong in order to get solid information. And capturing the creatures to tag them may also scare them away,” he said.

“This will backfire on our cause,” he added.

Last Sunday, The Star reported on the dwindling number of dugong, also known as sea cow, in southern Johor that was previously a haven for them due to the abundance of seagrass there.

But the depleting seagrass had forced the dugong to move to the eastern part of the state.

Concerned groups have suggested tagging the dugong to keep track of them, thus creating a database to monitor their population and movements.

Syed Abdullah said the Fisheries Research Institute had recorded three dugong deaths since the beginning of this year.

There were five such deaths in 2015 and four cases in 2014, mostly due to them being hit by boats, tangled in nets or incidental catches.

He acknowledged that there had been a drastic decline in the number of dugong, citing factors such as fish bombings, hunting, unsupervised tourism, seagrass degradation and habitat loss due to land reclamation and dredging activities.

“With rapid development in Johor some dugong habitats are no longer conducive for them to inhabit,” he said.

He urged Malaysians to play their part by avoiding fishing activities and reducing the speed of their boat at areas known to be populated by dugong, as well as to keep the cleanliness of sea water by not discarding waste into it.