[MARMAM] UNEP/CMS Press Release on Dugongs

Caryn Self-Sullivan caryns at sirenian.org
Thu Oct 7 12:58:10 PDT 2010

Note:  Dugongs AND Manatees are the World's Last Remaining Mermaids. - 

Press Release from UNEP/CMS

International Efforts Save Dugongs, The World’s Last Remaining Mermaids
UN Conference adopts a new conservation strategy to protect the sea cow

Bonn/Abu Dhabi, 7 October 2010 - Dugongs are believed to have been at  
the origin of mermaid legends when spotted swimming in the water from  
a distance. Now the remaining populations of this seemingly clumsy sea  
mammal, commonly known as a sea cow, are at serious risk of becoming  
extinct within the next 40 years. At an international meeting this  
week on dugongs convened by the Convention on the Conservation of  
Migratory Species of Wild Animals (UNEP/CMS) in Abu Dhabi,  
governments, International and Non-Governmental Organizations and  
experts discussed solutions to protect the world’s only herbivorous  
mammal living in marine waters.

CMS Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema said: “Simple  
innovative tools and new incentives for local fishermen have been  
presented to the signatories to the CMS dugong agreement, which might  
prevent this rare species from becoming extinct.” A newly developed  
innovative toolbox to mitigate threats to dugongs includes incentives  
to replace harmful gillnets with alternative fishing gear to reduce  
bycatch and minimize the mortality rates. According to an assessment  
undertaken in 2008, the dugong is now extinct in the Maldives,  
Mauritius and Taiwan, and declining in other waters in at least a  
third of the areas where it is found. However, at present, information  
on the dugongs is too limited to even assess completely the threats.  
Manmade threats pose the greatest risk to the gentle sea cow. Illegal  
poaching, unsustainable hunting by local communities, severe injuries  
from ships and vanishing seagrass beds are accelerating a critical  
loss of habitat and threatening populations.

The use of gillnets has led to the incidental entanglement in fishing  
gear, which is also a major threat. As fisheries become increasingly  
commercialized, bycatch will become even more frequent and serious.  
The second largest threat is unsustainable direct consumption which  
can result once a dugong is caught in 2 the nets. In addition, dugongs  
are also legally hunted by local communities in some countries for  
traditional consumption.

Risks from manmade threats are exacerbated by the dugong’s low  
reproduction rates. Even the slightly reduced survival rate of adults  
as a result of habitat loss, disease, hunting or drowning in nets, can  
trigger a dramatic decline. Initiating and enhancing regional  
cooperation among the countries that host dugong populations is  
essential to ensure the survival of this unique marine mammal. Data  
from fishermen surveyed in 20 countries in the Pacific Islands, South  
Asia as well as the United Arab Emirates are now available and will be  
reviewed to assess the threat of fishing on the survival of the  
dugongs in parts of its migratory range. The data will be combined  
into a geographical information system to identify the trouble spots,  
provide crucial information on existing populations and map important  
habitat areas such as seagrass beds. The data from the surveys will  
also help complete missing information on areas where threats to the  
dugong might be very high and enable local communities to preserve  
critical habitat. In 2011, the survey will be extended to countries in  
East Africa and the Western Indian Ocean Islands, Northwestern Indian  
Ocean as well as South Asian regions.

Other solutions that seek to protect valuable dugong habitat as well  
as breeding and feeding areas include establishing spatial closures as  
marine reserves and temporal constraints to fishing operations.  
Incentives, such as loans for buying new boats, for fishermen to use  
line-fishing gear were also discussed as were educational campaigns  
and measures to improve the livelihood of local communities as a way  
to complement conservation efforts. The meeting concluded that the  
conservation strategy should address the need for greater protection  
of marine biodiversity by combining different conservation tools.  
These tools are also necessary for reducing the entanglement in  
fishing gear of other marine species such as whales and dolphins,  
turtles and coastal sharks. Governments represented at the meeting  
will develop potential pilot projects to implement these new incentive  
based tools from which other marine species may benefit as well.  
Addressing threats to dugongs requires a multidisciplinary approach.  
The conservation strategy agreed at this meeting requires expertise  
and guidance from scientists specializing in dugong biology, marine  
resource management, coastal development, sustainable development,  
social sciences, economics, law and other relevant fields.

At the meeting, Bahrain, Palau, Seychelles, Vanuatu and Yemen also  
signed the CMS Dugong agreement bringing the number of signatories to  
18. More countries are likely to follow in the near future. The  
agreement provides a platform for cooperation among governments and  
regions to develop and implement conservation measures to ensure the  
long term survival of this unique marine mammal.

Notes to Editors: The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory  
Species of Wild Animals (UNEP/CMS), also known as the Bonn Convention,  
works for the conservation of a wide array of endangered migratory  
animals worldwide through the negotiation and implementation of  
agreements and action plans. At present, 114 countries are parties to  
the Convention. (www.cms.int) The UNEP/CMS Office in Abu Dhabi is co- 
located with the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi. It aims to implement  
the agreements on dugongs and African-Eurasian migratory birds of  
prey. The CMS dugong agreement was concluded in 2007 and signed by 13  
countries: Australia, Comoros, Eritrea, France, India, Kenya,  
Madagascar, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands,  
Tanzania and the United Arab Emirates.

For more information please contact:
Veronika Lenarz, UNEP/CMS Secretariat, tel: +49 (0)228 815 2409, e- 
mail: vlenarz at cms.int
Donna Kwan, UNEP/CMS Office - Abu Dhabi, tel: +971 56 6987830, e-mail: dkwan at cms.int 
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