Dugongs are large marine mammals found throughout the Indo-Pacific region and the eastern parts of Africa. However, they are scarce throughout much of their range and the largest populations are found in the northern waters of Australia. They are the only remaining species of the Dugongidae family after their closest remaining relative was hunted to extinction in the 1700’s. Dugong numbers have declined over the years and the species is now listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Let’s find out why this species is threatened and what is being done to ensure this species survives.
Why are dugongs endangered?
The greatest danger to dugongs is due to human impact. They have long been hunted as a source of food and oil and this has threatened their numbers. Commercial and local fishing, that occurs close to the coast, with nets is also a great threat to dugongs. They must come to the surface for air and if they become tangled in a net they cannot rise to the surface. Shark nets, placed on beaches to protect humans, have also been known to entangle this species. Habitat destruction is also another factor that is causing population decline. Dugongs rely on seagrasses for survival and any activity which kills or reduces the quality of the seagrass is a threat to this species. Many human activities (mining, trawling, dredging) and waste products produced by humans all reduce the quality of the seagrass. Other human impacts on this species includes: soil and chemical run-off from farms, oil spills and impacts with boats.
This species is now officially protected in many regions. Reducing the human impact in terms of fishing and environmental damage are also important steps in protecting dugongs. Seagrass restoration projects are also thought to be a key to the survival of this species. Unfortunately, seagrass can take many years to regenerate after it has been destroyed.
Did you know?
Dugongs hunting is banned in Australia, but Indigenous Australians are allowed to hunt dugongs in a traditional manner. There are some areas of the country where hunting is completely banned and boats must travel at low speeds to avoid collisions with these animals.