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Experts to shape a strategy for conservation of dugongs

Ahmed Abdul Aziz
Filed on May 30, 2006

ABU DHABI — A three-day symposium started here yesterday to discuss issues related to the conservation of dugongs and developing strategies to maintain a stable and healthy dugong population in the region.

Experts from 10 countries — the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Seychelles, Comoros, and Mayotte — are taking part in the symposium.

Dr Anthony Preen, a key speaker and a member of the Emirates Heritage Club in Abu Dhabi, said: “The absence of adequate and contemporary data from most areas, however, it makes it difficult to be certain about the real status of dugongs. Reflecting on the problem, dugongs worldwide are listed as vulnerable to extinction. The Arabian Coast of the Red Sea has been surveyed and there is a good data on the distribution and abundance of dugongs, and the threats they face.”

“This event marks an important step in our efforts to conserve and protect dugongs, and other threatened and endangered species,” said Dr Jaber Al Jaberi, Director of the Environment Protection Division, on behalf of the Environment Agency. He added: “We hope to provide a useful forum where regional and international cooperation can be developed in this regard. Recognising their important stand, the government accorded dugongs full protection under Federal Laws No. 23 and 24 pertaining to the exploitation, protection and development of aquatic resources and environment, respectively.”

He explained that the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) had prepared studies and researches for the past six years and is implementing a plan for the protection of more than 3,000 dugongs in the UAE, improving awareness on them, the need for their conservation, and strengthening the UAE’s regulations on their conservation. “The results of the study were also instrumental in the establishment of the Marawah and Al Yasat protected areas, which host around 75 per cent of the dugong population in the UAE,” he added.

Dr John E. Reynolds, senior scientist in the Mote Marine Laboratory and Chairman of the US Marine Mammal Commission, told Khaleej Times: “It is always nice when a single country (UAE) does a very good job, but also important to have a regional or international approach to protect dugongs.” He added: “So, the general principle is the wonderful idea to gather other people from all over the area, and we are here because we want to make conservation and research much better and undoubtedly useful.”

On the sidelines of the symposium, Dr Ronald Anthony Loughland told Khaleej Times that the second part of the UAE Atlas would be released soon. The atlas will focus on the Abu Dhabi Emirate and Northern Emirates around the Gulf Coast in the UAE.

On the dangers to the life of dugongs, Dr Loughland affirmed that there was no effect from quakes on the sea-ecology, but the problem was “onshore pollution, hunting, and habitat”.

“The symposium’s benefits are first that it puts all of us from the region together, which is a great chance to exchange expertise, feedback, and learn from each other,” said Catharine Muir, a Coordinator of Sea Sense (an NGO) in Tanzania. About the dangers threatening dugongs, she added: “The main danger — in the whole region — is the net capture, because it is the reason for many accidents, and the cause of destruction of habitat sea-grass.” She affirmed that the governments should take a role to protect sea-ecology and dugongs.





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