The Dugong (Dugong dugon) is IUCN Red listed as Vulnerable, in many of the 46 range states that contain Dugong its status is a lot worse. Historic hunting, loss of its seagrass habitat and the impacts of by-catch have been the primary causes of its decline. Back in 2007 the Secretariat of the Convention on Migratory Species (to which Dugong is one) negotiated the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and their Habitats throughout their Range (Dugong MoU) between 7 of these 46 countries. The aim of which was to promote internationally coordinated actions to ensure the long-term survival of dugongs and their seagrass habitats throughout their extensive range. Since 2007, the Secretariat of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) has managed to persuade a total of 26 states to sign up to this MoU and hopes to expand this further with the intention of protecting this wonderful species and its important seagrass habitat. A major spin off from this MoU has been the development of a Global Environment Facility funded project that aims to support the implementation of this MoU by 8 of the 26 signatories. Over the few months I’ve been lucky enough to become part of this project, principally as a technical advisor on the ecosystem services of seagrass meadows and as a result attended the recent inception workshop in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Back in October, along with partners from Mozambique, Vanuatu, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Soloman Islands, Temor Leste, and Malaysia I attended a workshop to discuss how local partners could develop projects aimed at promoting the conservation of seagrass and dugong. This workshop brought together a range of technical experts from the fields of dugong biology and conservation, seagrass monitoring and assessment, and applied conservation decision making. By enabling partners to critically consider the focus and methods of their respective projects, the aim of the workshop was to ensure that the investment of the Global Environment Facility has the greatest potential conservation impact. A nice example of this was how partners were provided with information and tools to consider (and reconsider) the most appropriate methods for mapping seagrass in their locations (see the Remote Sensing Online Tool Kit).
Online toolkit for remote sensing of Seagrass
It was great to discuss seagrass ecosystem services with partners from around the region, many of which are dealing with the same research questions and considerations that the work of Project Seagrass and SERG are currently investigating. In the Solomon Islands it was felt that local communities might not respond to conservation measures to protect Dugong, but that they would respond to measures aimed at protecting the habitat of the key local Rabbitfish fishery (seagrass) and indirectly help the Dugong. In Madagascar much the same issues were present, but the knowledge of the seagrass resources and their associated Dugong was at a very low level and needed to be improved.
The Indo-Pacific seagrass species Halophila ovalis is a key food source for the Dugong, its soft energy rich roots and rhizomes are targeted above many alternative seagrass species.
This project that is being managed through and co funded by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund appears a once in a generation opportunity to start a fight back for Dugong and Seagrass in a region where ecological decline is so widespread. I sincerely hope that this project expands and becomes a wider success in order to inspire more countries to become involved and for more countries to sign the MoU.