Dilmah Conservation hosts eminent British Marine Biologist Nick Pilcher
British marine biologist Dr Nicholas Pilcher wowed his audience at an illuminating presentation on dugongs, conservation, reflections on the past and the possibilities for the future. The lecture presented by Dilmah Conservation as part of their marine programme was held at the Wimalasurendra Auditorium of the Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka on January 12, 2012.
Dilhan C. Fernando, Marketing Director and son of Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando welcomed Dr Pilcher and shared with the audience an overview of Dilmah’s planned Marine Conservation programme. In presenting the intention of Dilmah to foster conservation by helping communities build on the tourism potential of their environment, he invited guests to join Dilmah Conservation in a planned Dugong survey.
Dr. Pilcher offered the assembled environmentalists, business people and general public insight into dugongs, and a close look at conservation strategies in the world. Dr Pilcher discussed the importance of businesses working together with conservation and the pros and cons of community conservation.
Dr Pilcher has a career spanning over 20-years working on marine research and conservation projects throughout the Indo-Pacific. He is the Founder and Director of the Marine Research Foundation, a private NGO based in Sabah, Malaysia, which implements marine research projects in several countries spanning the Indian and Pacific oceans. His research is particularly related to marine turtle and dugong conservation, and how they are impacted by fisheries bycatch.
The presentation clearly illuminated the ecological importance of the dugong and the ways in which nature benefits from the wellbeing of the dugong. According to Dr Pilcher, the dugong resides is fairly shallow waters where sea grass beds grow in abundance. It feeds on sea grass and keeps the plants nice and trim. These sea grass beds provide the nesting grounds for juvenile fish and shrimp and the fisheries industry is dependent on the wellbeing of the dugong and sea grass beds.
Dugongs were listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) way back in 2002. Dr Pilcher says ‘vulnerable is not a good thing – it means that it is vulnerable to extinction and there is a strong likelihood of that happening in the coming 20-30 years.’ The dugong populations are concentrated in a few areas in Northern Australia, Papua New Guinea where there are around 70 – 80,000 numbers recorded. According to Dr Pilcher, the Arabian Gulf is identified as the second stronghold of dugongs in the world. ‘However in places like Sri Lanka, where there is inconclusive evidence on the numbers, dugongs are a threatened species.’ He illustrated his point by citing the extinction of Stellar’s sea cow – the best example where humanity completely eliminated a marine species from the face of the earth.
The dugong has a long lifespan of up to 70 years of age. They mature fairly late in life at around 17 years of age and this itself is an indication of how long it takes for the dugong to be able to reproduce with a pregnancy cycle lasting around 12-16 months in total.
Touching upon conservation in the 21st century, Dr Pilcher pointed out that conservation efforts around the world sometimes do not get translated necessarily into solid action. He talked about millions of dollars of donor money spent on research which actually do not translate into anything on the ground. The conservation community has to translate all the research into solid action, he pointed out.
A majority of threatened biodiversity in the world is concentrated in the developing world, with money coming in for conservation from the developed world. Large amounts of money get invested in conservation with few solid results coming out of it. Dr Pilcher was critical of the developing world trying to adopt the technologies of the developed world as coal power plants and cheap left over technology, all polluting industries. ’We are good at taking things from the west.’ The plastic bag mentality is something we have adopted well from the developed world, he said.
We have the opportunity today to learn from the mistakes the developed world has made over time. We have technologies to address these issues and we do not need to do anything that did not work before. We have to build our own path and look at root causes of the issue, he further added.
Dr Pilcher’s lecture ended with a thought provoking example on how the correct method can lead to success. A question and answer session followed the lecture. Dr. Pilcher returned to his home in Sabah, Malaysia shortly thereafter with a gift of Dilmah Tea.
Dilmah Conservation was initiated in 2007 by the Dilmah Group to incorporate environmental conservation efforts into the MJF Charitable Foundation, which focuses on social justice. Dilmah Conservation works towards the sustainable use of the environment in partnership with other organisations including the International Union for Conservation of Nature – IUCN. The pledge made by Dilmah founder Merrill J. Fernando to make business a matter of human service is deeply ingrained in the work carried out by Dilmah Conservation. For additional information visit our website at www.dilmahconservation.org.