Featured Image Credit: Adnoc
By Kira Krall
A dugong was recently rescued in the UNESCO Marawah marine protected area off the coast of Abu Dhabi. Its tail had become entangled in a floating, illegal fishing net. Not only was it dragging extra weight around, but the buoyancy of the net made it impossible for the dugong to dive for seagrass, a staple in its diet. Without eating over 88 pounds of seagrass per day, the standard for our Indo-Pacific sea cow, the dugong could have starved had no one intervened to cut it loose from its floating purgatory.
Thankfully, both Seabed Geosolutions and the Abu Dhabi Oil Company were in the area surveying for marine animals when they responded to reports of the tangled dugong (in the Marawah marine protected area, shown above). It took three hours to free the 5 foot long mammal from the deadly marine debris.
While saving one dugong may not seem like much, it means everything to the fate of the species. Four populations are considered endangered or critically endangered. There isn’t enough data in four other populations to make a status decision, and only the Australian population is doing okay. Dugongs were harvested for food in the whaling days and the species hasn’t recovered thanks to modern threats. Boat strikes, noise pollution, marine debris, and entanglement in shark nets all contribute for the continuous population declines.
The freed dugong was marked with non-toxic paint so it could be monitored for any complications. The dugong’s distress calls were recorded, a first for the species, and those recordings will be used to aid the process that listens for marine mammals before engaging in seismic activity.