Dugong survey after 20 years

Bahrain will soon launch the first survey in 20 years to measure the dugong population in its waters to determine if the sea mammal is endangered. The survey will provide useful and reliable scientific data for measures to protect and conserve the mammal species, say Bahrain Centre for Studies and Research (BCSR) officials.

The last study undertaken in 1986 estimated the total number of dugongs in the Gulf to be about 7,000.

Other statistics indicate that waters southeast of Bahrain – a core area for the local dugong population – has about 2,500 to 3,500 dugongs.

The study will show whether the dugong population has increased over the last 20 years, which will indicate a healthy environment for them, or if it has dropped.

If it indicates that the dugongs are under threat, the study will recommend that the authorities concerned adopt methods to minimise the impact of possible threats, said BCSR fisheries studies head Ebrahim Abdulqader.

He said the dugongs found in Bahrain’s waters and other areas belong to a species scientifically known as Dugong dugon and they are the only living species of the family Dugongidae.

“Dugongs are also the only mammalian species which feed on sea grass and they spend their whole lifecycle in the same marine habitat,” he said.

They are listed as vulnerable to extinction at the global level by the World Conservation Union, added Mr Abdulqader.

“Global concern about the protection of dugongs has arisen due to the sharp decline in their numbers in several parts of the world and they face several direct and indirect threats,” said Dr Abdulqader.

“The growth rate for the dugong population is estimated to be five per cent, which is low.

“One direct threat is from fishing practices, particularly the use of drift gillnets, locally known as hayali.

“Boat navigation also has a direct impact and particularly boats travelling at high speed in shallow waters where dugongs are found, putting them at risk of being hit by boats.

“Indirectly, dugongs are threatened by dredging and reclamation activities, which reduce the sea grass feeding areas.”

Mr Abdulqader was speaking at the opening of a seminar held at the BCSR, Awali yesterday.

It was conducted by Dr Amanda Hodgson, a dugong specialist and research consultant affiliated to James Cook University, Australia. She talked about the survey to be conducted in co-operation with GEOMATEC Spatial Information and Research as well as James Cook University.

The survey is part of a contractual study supported by both Durrat Al Bahrain and the Esterad Investment Company.

Dr Hodgson said that once the survey is completed, it will be necessary to repeat it every three to five years in order to monitor any changes in the dugong population.

In Bahrain, hunting and catching of dugongs in addition to other marine wildlife has been banned under Decree 3 of 2003 issued by the Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife.

By Sara Sami