It must have required many lonely months out to sea to mistake this face only a mother could love for that of a fair maiden, but encounters with dugongs are indeed said to have been the inspiration for the myth of the mermaid.
While the fictional fish-human hybrids were believed to have “called sailors to their death by encouraging them to jump overboard from their ships,” Green Prophet reports that it’s humans who are threatening their real-life counterparts with extinction.
Massive offshore construction projects in the Persian Gulf, such as Dubai’s planned series of artificial islands dubbed “The World,” are damaging the coral reefs, kelp, and seagrasses that dugongs need to survive.
According to our friends over at Green Prophet, a blog dedicated to environmental news from the Middle East, critical habitat and food sources for these slow-moving aquatic mammals have been depleted by more than 35 percent.
Okinawa Dugongs Threatened Too
With between 6,000 and 7,000 dugongs, also known as sea cows, the Persian Gulf and Red Sea areas are estimated to be home to the world’s second-largest population of the herbivorous animals.
Most are now concentrated around Australia, though they are found in other places around the world as well. In Okinawa, Japan, where dugongs were traditionally revered as sacred messengers from the sea gods, the small remaining population faces ongoing threats from the expansion of U.S. military facilities in the area, including a controversial offshore air base.
In the Persian Gulf region, dugongs, which are related to manatees and elephants, are also affected by increasing sea-water salinity and water pollution from oil spills.
Though some efforts are being made to protect the animals from these and other threats — including being hunted or getting trapped in fishing nets — if more isn’t done soon, few of them will likely live out their long natural lifespans of up to 70 years.
Via: “Persian Gulf ‘Mermaids’ Face Manmade Environmental Threats,” Green Prophet