Society for Conservation of Nature

CONSERVATION OF SEA COW (DUGONG) BY TAMIL NADU FOREST DEPARTMENT

SAVE DUGONG (SEA COW)

OR

CONSERVATION OF DUGONGS

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RELEASE OF DUGONGS AT MANAMELKUDI AND KODIMUNAI BY KEEZHATHOTTAM FISHERMEN ON 13.11.2016 AND 30.11.2017 RESPECTIVELY DUE TO THE AWARENESS CREATED BY TAMIL NADU FOREST DEPARTMENT

Implementation of Dugong Conservation Plan: Species Conservation Action Plan for Sea Cow (Dugong-Dugong dugon) in Palk Bay was organized by Thanjavur Forest Division during 2016-17 under the Tamil Nadu Biodiversity Conservation and Greening Project (TBGP) implemented with the financial support rendered by Japan International Cooperative Agency (JICA). Orientation workshop on the scheme has been organized involving Officers from different departments of Marine Police, Fisheries, Veterinary and Police. The status, conservation value and solution for dugong conservation with coordinated effort for rescue and release of dugong were discussed in detail.

Awareness programs: Dugong awareness programs have been organized in many coastal villages like Kazhumanguda, Karanguda, Mallipattinam, Chinnamanai, Manora, Velivayal, Pillayarthidal, Somanathanpattinam, Sethubhavachathiram, etc., along the coast of Thanjavur district. Street plays with dance, music and drama explained the value of seagrass for sustainable fishing activity and conservation of dugongs. Hoardings were erected in prominent places stressing the importance of conserving Dugong and its habitats. Booklets and brochures on the scheme were printed and distributed among the fishing villages, schools, colleges and other line departments in order to gain their good-will in conserving Dugong. The conservation message on Dugong rescue and release has reached thousands of people through these programs.

Motivation of the fisher folk: Generally fishermen of these areas use trap net (Adaippu valai) in areas with seagrass beds. So, they were educated about the seagrass rehabilitation as they are the habitats of dugongs. When dugongs are caught accidentally in their fishing nets, they were motivated to release them into the sea by way of giving some awards and due compensation. The dugongs once caught in the fishing net have to be released by cutting open the net. The loss of the fishing net may be a huge burden for poor fisher folks. Therefore in order to make good of the loss caused, due compensation is given from the Forest department.

Magic of the Wonder-drug: The awareness created played a magic and as a result, on 13.11.206, the fishermen of Keezhathottam village who caught two dugongs accidentally informed the Forest Range Officer (FRO), Pattukottai very immediately. On the instruction of the FRO, the dugongs were released by cutting open the fishing nets into the sea at Manamelkudi near Kattumavadi and the activities were videoed and photographed.  One more Dugong was also released at Kodimunai on 30.01.2017. The fishing villagers who ventured into releasing the Dugongs were duly compensated by the Forest Department. Besides, the persons who gave information about the movements of Dugong were also rewarded properly.

Sea Cow (Dugong): Dugongs are mammals found living along the coasts of about 48 countries around the world. They are the only living species belong to the family ‘Dugongidae’. Dugong is a Critically Endangered Species. They move in herds consisting of small populations and are separated by long distances. Generally dugongs live for more than 70 years. The reproductive rate of dugongs is low with long intervals between generations. Research on dugongs shows that females do not commence breeding till they attain the age of 17. But male dugongs attain sexual maturity when they become 4 years old. Adult male dugong will be 2.5 metres long and female dugong of 2.2 metres long will be mostly immature and not ready for breeding. Generally the population of dugongs will be 50% male and 50% female. Dugongs feed mainly on seagrass. They are herbivores. Dugongs make a variety of noises in order to communicate with each other. Dugong is the State Animal of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. They are also known as ‘Sea Cow’, Sea Pig’ and ‘Sea Camel’.

Behaviour of Sea Cow: Depending on their reproductive behaviour, food supply, environmental conditions, distance of movements and hunting pressure, the herd size fluctuates periodically. Usually dugongs are seen moving in pairs and in small groups. Herds of more than twenty are noticed at times when small groups gather together to take shelter from storm. Some dugongs migrate to a long distance seasonally while some live in large reef of island territories. They are very sensitive to tidal fluctuations and water clarity. They often swim along the flood and ebb tides. Since shallow seagrass beds dry at low tide, their feeding is limited to high tide periods. Dugongs are in the habit of rubbing their bodies against rocks similar to that of elephants scratching their bodies against trees and boulders. Dugongs make different kinds of noises in order to communicate with each other.

Threats faced by Sea Cow: Humans, crocodiles, large sharks and killer whales are posing threats to dugongs as they are large marine animals. Due to various threats faced by dugong, their former distribution range in certain parts of the world is now absent. Research findings have shown that where there is no human impact, dugong population increases only by about 5% per annum. Therefore scientists are very much concerned about their dwindling population. It has been estimated that if more than about 2% of adult females in a population are killed every year, their population will decline drastically. Dugongs face various threats. They are harvested for food, meat, oil, medicaments, etc. When females are hunted, it leads to reduction in the breeding stock. As seagrass provides shelter and breeding ground for the dugongs, when there is damage caused to the habitats by pollution, physical damage by trawling and accumulation of silt by mining, mismanagement of catchment or coastal development, these activities have adverse impact on the population. Loss of seagrass due to large scale floods may lead to the destruction of their feeding and breeding grounds. The noise developed by boats may scare the animals and boat strike may cause death to dugongs. When the marine animals get entangled in fishing lines and nets, it may be fatal to them. In India, there are only about 250 dugongs spread across Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay, Gulf of Kutch and Andaman & Nocobar Islands.

Dugong Conservation Plan: Current and long-term monitoring of dugongs shows that their populations can be maintained or recovered by ensuring protection of their habitats, reducing their deaths due to fishing, etc. Research and Monitoring Scientists are tracking dugongs through the aerial survey method to determine the grazing areas, duration and depths of dives, movements between grazing areas and between regions. By identifying the main feeding areas through aerial tracking, the management of net fishing and boat traffic in these areas are regulated. By creating awareness among the fishing community, the populations are managed to stay healthy and to recover the numbers.

Vital roles of seagrass meadows: Seagrass meadows identified in Palk Bay located between Sri Lanka and India serve as breeding and feeding ground for many fishes, molluscs, invertebrate species and mammals including Dugong (Sea Cow). Sea horses, sea cucumbers and pipe fishes are also living in the seagrass beds of Palk Bay. Seagrass meadows are the most productive plant communities. The complex architecture of the leaf canopy of the seagrass meadows in combination with the dense network of roots and rhizomes stabilize the bottom sediments. They serve as effective hydrodynamic barriers and thereby reduce wave energy and current velocity. Since they reduce turbidity, coastal erosion is decreased. As seagrass beds are growing naturally along the coast of Palk Bay, this region is considered as a highly productive coastline in the southeast coast of India due its shallow and enclosed geography. With the idea of long term conservation of seagrass beds in Thanjavur district, seagrass rehabilitation project has been undertaken near Manora village.

Ecosystem services of seagrass beds: About 1,77,000 square kilometres of seagrass meadows are spread over the coasts all over the world. 1.2 kilogram of minerals absorbed by 1 hectare of seagrass annually is considered to be equal to treating of the sewage released by 200 persons. 33 grams of atmospheric carbon absorbed by seagrass beds spread over 1 square metre annually is assessed to be equal to the quantity of carbon di oxide released by a motor vehicle which runs for 2,500 kilo metres. Seagrass meadows spread over only 0.1% of the area under the sea of the entire globe sequesters 12% of the carbon absorbed by the sea as a whole and thus help mitigating global warming.

Protection ensured under Wildlife Protection Act: In order to ensure protection, Dugongs are covered under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The marine animal is given extraordinary protection status by bringing Dugong under Schedule I. The offence committed in relation to Dugong is punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three years but may extend to seven years and also with fine which shall not be less than ten thousand rupees.

V.Sundararaju.IFS  (R),

Former Deputy Conservator of Forests,

President, Society for Conservation of Nature (SOFCON), Trichy-620017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AREAS WHERE SEAGRASS REHABILITATION SURVEY WAS CONDUCTED

RELEASE OF A DUGONG BY CUTTING OPEN THE NET INTO THE SEA AT MANAMAELKUDI

 

   FISHERMEN HELPING A DUGONG TO COME OUT OF THE FISHING NET INTO THE SEA

              MONITORING THE DUGONG CONSERVATION ACTIVITIES IN PALK BAY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seagrass frames showing growth of seagrass (Cymodocea serrulata and Syringodium isoetifolium) after 3 months (June, 2017)