CAPE PANWA, PHUKET: A top marine mammal researcher is drawing up a national action plan for conserving the country’s dwindling population of dugong, three of which were found dead this week.
“We have a national action plan for dugong and seagrass in Thailand to conserve the seagrass habitat, reduce mortality, continue monitoring numbers and study behavior,” said Kanjana Adulyanukosol of the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC).
Miss Kanjana was quoted by the state-run Thai News Agency earlier this week saying the dugong faced extinction locally within 20 or 30 years if the government does not take urgent action to protect seagrass beds, their natural habitat.
About 200 dugong remain in waters along the Andaman Coast, she said.
Setting up the action plan would lead the way to Thailand signing an international memorandum of understanding (MOU) on dugong conservation, which has already been signed by 42 countries.
“The MOU was established by the Australian government after meetings held in Thailand in 2005 and 2006. Then in 2007 there was a meeting for the first signings in Abu Dhabi, followed by another meeting in Bali in 2008,” she said.
Thailand has not signed the MOU because it has to do more to co-ordinate the efforts of the six government agencies involved, including the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, Fisheries and Marine Transport departments and the Foreign Ministry.
“I think Thailand is going to sign the memorandum very soon,” she said.
Coastal development and sedimentation is the main long-term threat to seagrass beds, she said.
“However, for an individual dugong the greatest threat is from human activities and various kinds of fishing gear,” she explained.
“This has been a very bad week for us. We got one dead dugong from Satun on the first of February, then two on February 3: one each from Trang and Krabi,” she said.
An examination of the first two carcasses revealed that the dugong had thick blubber – indicating that they were healthy at the time of death.
“The second one was still fresh. There were no traces of outside trauma and the pericardium was full of liquid, which indicates a sudden death, possibly from shock. So we guess that it went into sudden shock and died, probably drowning from fishing activity,” she said.
Overall seven dugong deaths have been reported to the PMBC, she said.
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