Call to protect Bahrain’s dugong population

Action needs to be taken to protect the endangered dugongs (sea cows) that live in Bahrain’s shallow seawaters, says an environmentalist.

Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife director-general and vice-president Dr Ismail Al Madani said there was a ministerial order for the protection and conservation of dugongs, but that better implementation of the order was needed.

“We don’t have any statistics about how many are entangled in fishing nets or hit by boats,” he said.

“We also need more extensive scientific research into their lifecycles. Do they breed in Bahrain or not? We don’t know exactly.

“We have pictures of dugongs and their calves, but we don’t know if they breed here.

“A conservation project would be good, but we need funding, that’s the problem.”

Dugongs are one of the four species of manatees. They live in the shallow waters of the Indian Ocean and parts of the Pacific and graze on seagrass.

They swim by moving their broad spade-like tail in an up and down motion, and by the use of their two flippers. Their head and face are wrinkled with whiskers on the snout.

These aquatic mammals can live as long as 60 years or more and can grow to be three metres long and weigh 400 kilogrammes.

When they are young, manatees are hunted by sharks, crocodiles and killer whales.

However, mortalities are normally human-related as many get caught up in fishing nets, fishing lines or other debris. Manatees tend to swim below the surface and are often hit by boats unsuspectingly.

However, the loss of natural habitat is one of the most serious threats facing them today.

Bahrain volunteer Yvonne Trueman believes that Bahrain should establish a dugong conservation programme similar to the one she visited early this year in Central America.

Ms Trueman visited Wildtracks in Sartenejae, Belize, which is a volunteer non-profit organisation that focuses primarily on conservation and environmental education.

The volunteer was at Wildtracks with children from the Dorothy Menzies Child Care Home, which she has been supporting for 10 years.

“Having just returned from Belize, I was privileged to observe a manatee conservation programme in action at Wildtracks,” said Ms Trueman.

“Two manatees had been rescued, one having been found orphaned and the other having been severely damaged by propeller blades from passing boats.

“These manatees would not have survived had it not been for the conservational action of this programme.”

She described her experience on Bahrain Television Channel 55’s programme Glow, which was aired on Tuesday and again last night.

One of the manatees was Tiny, an 18-month adolescent. He was found as an emaciated calf, whose mother was presumed to have been killed in a boat collision.

The other was Buttons, a seven-month-old, with wounds across her back from a boat propeller.

The older calf was kept in a cordoned-off area on the shoreline where the waters are shallow and was fed on a form of water hyacinth brought by volunteers. The smaller calf needed more specialised care and was kept separately in a plastic splash pool.

“Calves left motherless stand no chance of survival unless rescued by these conservation programmes, which see the calf through the first year and when ready are set free back to sea.

Ms Trueman said several countries had manatee protection policies combined with public awareness campaigns.

“I think we need more public awareness about these harmless lovely creatures in Bahrain,” she said.

“When injured, we need a programme that takes care of them while their wounds heal.

“I think this could easily be set up in Bahrain and run by volunteers. I don’t think it would cost much.”

Source: Gulf Daily News