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EAD calls on community to help protect endangered dugongs

posted on 05/03/2015: 2446 views

The Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi, EAD, has called on the community once again to support it efforts to protect the endangered dugong species, which continue to face growing threats due to habitat loss and human activity.

Dugongs (Dugong dugon), their foraging habitats and migratory routes in the UAE, are protected under Federal Laws 23 and 24 (1999). As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Migratory Species, the UAE has an international responsibility to protect its dugongs. What's more, the UAE is host to the worlds' second highest dugong population after Australia. Over 2,800 dugongs are currently resident in UAE waters.

Studies conducted by EAD experts have indicated that between 2000 and 2014, 153 incidents of dugong mortality have been reported. Under a long-term dugong monitoring programme that is carried out by EAD, all reported cases of dugong mortality are routinely examined.

The main cause of mortality in the last 15 years was drowning in abandoned, lost and/or illegal fishing nets (72.5 %) followed by vessel strikes (15.7 %). However, in the last 5 years (2010-2014), the cause of death due to drowning has increased to 85%.

Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary-General of EAD, said, "These figures once again very clearly reaffirm the vulnerability of these majestic animals to human threats such as being caught in discarded fishing nets, impact with boats, marine pollution, combined with a decline of its critical natural habitat – seagrass beds." "The protection of dugong habitats will continue to be a priority for Abu Dhabi. We are focused on ensuring that Abu Dhabi's waters are managed in a way which helps us to maintain the species' populations by ensuring the integrity of its key habitats and marine ecosystems," she added.

Dugong mortality incidences were frequently reported during the winter months that extend from November to March. The season coincides with higher seagrass biomass, greater congregation of dugongs and an increase in the level of fishing activity. Death incidences are mainly due to drowning in fishing nets, "hiyali", which are used illegally by fishermen during this period of the year to catch king fish. Hiyali drift nets are deployed in shallow waters up to a maximum depth of 8-10m, largely the same waters harbouring extensive seagrass meadows that dugongs naturally inhabit.

Informal interviews conducted as part of the studies revealed that the majority of respondents were aware of the laws prohibiting the use of illegal nets and the protected status of dugongs in the UAE. In spite of the regulations, however, many fishermen continue to use "hiyali" nets because it is a particularly lucrative method of fishing.

Since 1999, EAD, Total, and Total ABK have collaborated in conducting detailed studies on the local dugong population. These studies have provided EAD with critical, timely data that helps the Agency better understand the behaviour of and threats to the dugong population.

EAD called on the community to report any dead dugong or any other species caught in discarded fishing nets, through the Abu Dhabi Government Contact Centre. – Emirates News Agency, WAM –


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