Dugong Conservation Reserve: The government of Tamil Nadu recently announced its plan to set up India’s first Dugong Conservation Reserve in the Palk Bay on the southeast coast for the conservation of Dugong.
Dugongs are commonly known as sea cows.
According to Wildlife Institute of India (WII) estimates, only 200-250 Dugongs are left in the wild, of which 150 are found in the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar in Tamil Nadu.
This marine animal has been enlisted vulnerable to extinction on a global scale by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
About the reserve:
- The reserve will spread over an area of 500 km in Palk Bay on the southeast coast of Tamil Nadu from Adiramapattinam to Amapattinam.
- The dugong is generally found in two places in Tamil Nadu- the Gulf of Mannar and Palki Bay.
- The Gulf of Mannar is a shallow bay area between the south-eastern tip of Tamil Nadu and the western part of Sri Lanka.
- Palk Bay is a semi-enclosed shallow water body with a water depth maximum of 13 meters.
- Located between India and Sri Lanka along the Tamil Nadu coast, the dugong is a flagship species in the region.
Note: Dugong or the sea cow is the State animal of Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
- It is believed that an estimated 200 individuals live in the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar area which would largely benefit from the Tamil Nadu government’s recent decision to establish a conservation reserve.
About Dugong: The sea cow
- Dugong is a sea mammal and is the only living species of the order Sirenia.
- This endangered species is herbivorous and primarily feeds on seagrasses and spends most of its time in seagrass beds.
- It is strictly marine and is the only extant species in the family Dugongida
- Dugongs are usually about three-meter long and weigh about 400 kg.
- Dugongs have an expanded head and trunk-like upper lip.
- They have a very small brain in comparison to their body size and have a distinct dolphin-like tail.
- The closest relative of the species was the Steller’s Sea cow, which was hunted to extinction in the eighteenth century.
- However, unlike dolphins and other cetaceans, sea cows have two nostrils and no dorsal fin.
- Distributed in shallow tropical waters in the Indo-Pacific region, in India, they are found in the Gulf of Kutch, Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
Conservation of Dugong:
- Dugongs are protected in India under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Act 1972 which bans the killing and purchasing of dugong meat.
- Conservation measures like the proposed conservation area can help revive the sea cow population.
- The proposed reserve area has the highest concentration of dugongs in the country.
- In addition, studies suggest that simultaneous effort towards seagrass meadow restoration, reduction of dugong mortalities, and community participation in dugong conservation can help in helping the dugong population recover.
- It also calls for creating awareness among the people, involving the local communities.
Causes of extinction:
- Studies have suggested the reasons for the extinction of the animal such as slow breeding rate, fishing, and the loss of habitat.
- Dugongs are long-living animals that have a low reproductive rate, long generation time, and high investment in each offspring.
- The female dugongs do not bear their first calf until they are at least 10 and up to 17 years old.
- Due to natural and human-induced activities, the natural habitat of the animal is at a risk.
- The herbivorous mammal feeds on seagrass, which is at a loss.
- Human activities such as riding speedboats cause the death of the animal due to boat and propellor strikes.
- Further, habitat loss is also attributed to the increase in conversion of coastal forests to banana, areca nut, and coconut plantations and high boat traffic.
- Natural factors are also responsible for the decline in dugongs population.
- According to a study (Das & Dey 1999), extreme weather events such as cyclones and high energy tidal storms may also contribute to the loss of seagrasses in the region.
- Dugongs are also known to suffer due to accidental entanglement and drowning in gill-nets.