The Pacific Voyage Media Team, 28 October Nagoya Japan -
Photo of dugong by Richard W. Brooks
Next year the campaign to raise awareness of the dugong in the Pacific will start, with island countries taking more concrete and more comprehensive steps in dugong conservation.
Palau, during the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 10) announced the initiative to protect marine species by declaring the Palau waters as marine mammal sanctuary which include dugongs.
In his ministerial statement, Palau Environment and Tourism Minister Harry Fritz says that the country is committed to an agreement with the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) to protection the dugong population.
“We will protect our population of dugong, which is the most isolated population in the world,” says the Minister
“And, I am pleased to share that just last week, our President, with traditional and congressional support, declared Palau’s waters as sanctuary to all species of marine mammals,” Fritz says.
A Palau dugong awareness campaign is now underway to protect the marine mammal.
The dugong or sea cow is Palau's most endangered marine mammal and has the smallest and most isolated dugong population in the world, with possibly less than 200 animals.
Proponents of the campaign say that Palauans still hunt and eat dugongs, and hunting remains a problem in spite of local laws protecting the dugong.
The awareness campaign, managed by Mandy Etpison aims to educate Palauans about the dugong, survey their feeding grounds and daily routes, and work with local government agencies to improve enforcement on illegal poaching.
Recently a 12 feet life-sized wooden statue of a dugong mother with two calves made by the Etpison Museum was presented to the Minister of State for display in August 2010.
Dugongs are long-lived with low productive rates, low generation time and a high investment in each offspring.
The dugong home range in the region includes the waters of Australia, Papua New Guniea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Palau.
According to the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) website, scientific information on dugong distribution and abundance is outdated or non-existent. The status of dugongs is unknown throughout the region. It is likely that dugongs are widely distributed in small numbers in much of PNG, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and that larger numbers occur in the PNG waters of Torres Strait. Their reliance on relatively shallow water seagrass beds for food limits the ability of dugongs to travel between islands and continents that are separated by extensive areas of deep water.
For this reason, many island populations, including those around Vanuatu and Palau, are essentially isolated. Such isolation makes this group of dugongs especially vulnerable to extinction.
Recently the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Convention on Migratory Species conducted its first official signatory meeting for Dugong Memorandum of Understanding in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
The SPREP website further states that an urgent issue is the need to address the conservation management of dugongs in the region.
Despite a comprehensive global review and excellent in-country activities, the status of dugongs remains largely unknown, few effective conservation measures exist and anecdotal evidence gives increased cause of concern for their future.