Dugong Conservation Reserve

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    In News

    • Marine biologists have welcomed the Tamil Nadu government’s recent decision to go ahead with the establishment of a conservation reserve for the elusive dugong.

    About

    • Location: Dugong conservation reserve would be established in the Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay between India and Sri Lanka.

    Dugong 

    • Also called the Sea Cow.
    • In an interesting incident, Christopher Colombus mistook them as sea mermaids.
    • It is a herbivorous mammal
    • They live in groups, grazing on seagrass and coming to the surface to breathe.
    • LifeSpan: 70 Years or more
    • They are found in over 30 countries. (Not endemic to India)
    • In India, they are seen in the Gulf of Mannar, Gulf of Kutch, Palk Bay, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
      • Australia has the highest Dugong population due to coral reefs.
    • Conservation Status:
      • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Vulnerable 
      • CITES Appendix I
      • Wildlife Protection Act: Schedule 1
    • Threats:
      • The loss of seagrass habitats
      • Water pollution
      • Degradation of the coastal ecosystem due to developmental activities. 
      • Accidental entanglement in fishing nets and collision with boats, trawlers.
      • Poached for meat

    Conservation Efforts

    • Dugong and Seagrass GrassConservation Project: By Global Economic Facility & UNEP for eight nations in the Indo-Pacific excluding India.
    • MoUs by UNEP & Conservation of Migratory Species.

    Issues associated

    • Verge of extinction: It is definitely a late step because dugongs are on the verge of extinction.
    • In the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, their population is less than 100.
      • There are very few left in the Gulf of Mannar.
      • In the Gulf of Kutch, there are very few sporadic records.
    • They were present in Lakshadweep but now are locally extinct.
    • In the case of marine reserves, the sea is a type of commons.
      • And coastal communities are highly dependent on it.
      • By designating a protected marine area, we are literally denying the resources to such people.
    • The main cause of mortality for dugongs is accidental entanglement.
      • They are marine mammals and have to surface every four minutes to breathe.
      • Fishermen use gill nets and dugongs get trapped and killed in them unintentionally.
    • Very few people have been arrested, imprisoned or prosecuted for poaching dugongs.
      • The enforcement of the law needs to be strengthened if you want to conserve the species.

    Significance

    • The proposed conservation area has the highest concentration of dugongs in the country.
    • We have already declared dugongs as a Schedule I animal under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
      • Legally, it is given the highest protection.
    • Declaring an area as ‘protected’ means there will be no human interference there.
      • There may be some tribal communities dependent on non-timber forest produce.

    Suggestions/ Way Forward

    • Massive awareness is needed about the dugong as very few people know about them even in the Andamans where they are the state animal.
    • This could be done through incentive programmes: For instance, if a dugong gets captured and is released by fishermen, they get Rs 5,000 if they provide photo documentation of the act.
    • Fishing communities should also decide to shift to other sources of food rather than hunt dugongs for meat if they want their future generations to see dugongs.
    • The next step in dugong conservation is the preservation of the threatened seagrass ecosystem.
      • Ultimately, if there is no seagrass, dugongs will perish.

    Source: DTE