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India’s 1st dugong conservation reserve to be in Tamil Nadu

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    8th Sep, 2021


Recently, 500 of the biodiversity-rich waters in the Palk Bay, on the southeast coast of Tamil Nadu, became India's first dugong conservation reserve.

  • The reserve will span the northern part of the Palk Bay from Adiramapattinam to Amapattinam.

Key points about Dugong

  • Dugongs are sea cows or sirenia. It is a species of sea cow.
    • These animals are called 'sirenias', since their mammary glands and nursing habits are similar to those of humans. Hence, sailors often call dugongs mermaids or sirens.
  • Location: They are found throughout the warm latitudes of the Indian and western Pacific Oceans.
  • Conservation status: They are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and are protected in India under Schedule I of the Wild (Life) Protection Act, 1972.
  • Diet: The dugong, like all sea cows, is herbivorous. It primarily grazes on sea grasses and therefore spends most of its time in seagrass beds.
  • Dugongs are an important part of the marine ecosystem and their depletion will have effects all the way up the food chain.

Threats for dugong

  • Hunting for meat and oil. 
  • By-catch: Dugongs are often incidentally caught in nets, targeting fish and sharks. This by-catch leads to a high number of mortality because of insufficient oxygen supply. 
  • Habitat disturbance in a form of water pollution, which leads to destruction of seagrass beds that are the main food source for these animals.
  • Human activities such as the
    • destruction and modification of habitat
    • pollution
    • rampant illegal fishing activities, vessel strikes
    • unsustainable hunting or poaching
    • unplanned tourism
  • Loss of seagrass beds due to ocean floor trawling.

Steps Taken for Conservation

  • In February 2020, India hosted the 13th Conference of Parties (CoP) of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), an environmental treaty under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
  • The Government of India has been a signatory to the CMS since 1983.
  • India has signed non-legally binding Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) with CMS on the conservation and management of-
    • Dugongs (2008)
    • Siberian Cranes (1998)
    • Marine Turtles (2007)
    • Raptors (2016)

Population number

According to the WWF (World Wildlife Fund), the overall Dugong population is estimated to be about 85,000 animals, living in waters of northern Australia, from Shark Bay (Western Australia) to Moreton Bay (Queensland).