Unless action is taken soon, Sri Lanka is in danger of losing a national treasure. The dugong (Dugong dugon) once swam the warm waters from Africa to Australia, feeding on sea grass beds in massive herds. Prized for their oil, hides, and meat, over-hunting and habitat fragmentation are quickly setting this marine mammals on track to join their ancestors in extinction. Working with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), Dilmah Conservation is taking measures to bring these majestic creatures back from the brink.
In November of 2011, Dilmah Conservation marine biologist, Ranil Nanayakkara led a large-scale investigation on current dugong populations in eastern Sri Lanka. Dugongs are shy in nature and rarely found in groups larger than two and identifying feeding sites is no easy task. Therefore, Nanayakkara and his team drew on the experience of rural fisherman from Eravur to Batticaloa to help piece together dugongs’s Sri Lankan distribution. Following hundreds of interviews, Dilmah Conservation has acquired valuable – and surprisingly promising – information that can serve as a base for future dugong population research.
During the surveys carried out to gather data on dugong distribution, abundance, and their ‘hotspots’, as well as their main threats - particularly from incidental capture by net fisheries - several important factors relating to dugongs have been discovered. A preliminary map has been developed with the information gathered during the survey, based on the responses of the fishermen interviwed to indicate the dugong habitats in Mannar and Jaffna provinces.
Given the dangers dugong is facing at present and the importance of conserving it, Sri Lanka became a signatory to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and Their Habitats throughout their Range (Dugong MOU) in early 2012. The MOU operates under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). The UNEP/CMS Office – Abu Dhabi is currently working with the Department of Wildlife Conservation, IUCN Sri Lanka and Dilmah Conservation to implement preliminary work on conserving the dugong.
Now, our conservation efforts can advance from research to carefully honed action. We’ll keep you up to date on all goings-on dugong!
Field data on ongoing activities: