Saving the mermaid


The mermaid? But it doesn\’t exist! Oh yes it does. It is called the dugong, or sea cow, the origin of mermaid stories, the world\’s only herbivorous marine animal is close to extinction and could die out completely within the next 40 years, reports the United Nations Environment Program.

According to UNEP, the dugong is now extinct in the Maldives, Mauritius and Taiwan and elsewhere, its population is declining \”in at least a third of the areas where it is found\” however, the information on this animal is still too scant to make an accurate assessment of the situation. It could be far, far worse.

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (UNEP/CMS) has convened an international meeting this week in Abu Dhabi to pool international resources and discuss ways in which the dugong can be saved. Governments, NGOs, international organizations and experts have come together to find new ways of saving this docile and peaceful mammal, identifying the threats and possible solutions.

The threat

The threat, as usual, comes from Mankind. Illegal poaching, unsustainable hunting by local communities, injuries from ships and gillnets and pollution which destroys the sea grass beds on which the sea cow feeds, are identified as being the reasons behind its plight.

Coupled with this, the dugong has a low reproduction rate.


The main cause of death is drowning while becoming entangled in gillnets. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) therefore intends to start here, presenting signatories to the CMS dugong agreement with innovative tools for fishermen to replace gillnets with alternative equipment to reduce bycatch (incidental catching), minimizing mortality rates.

The second main cause of death is hunting. The CMS intends to enhance regional cooperation among countries which host dugong populations, providing data to form a proper assessment of the situation. This information will inform countries of areas where the threat is very high and so enable the local communities where these animals live, or along their migratory route, to provide and safeguard habitat.

Data from the Pacific islands, South Asia and the United Arab Emirates is already available and in 2011 the scope of the initiative will be widened to East Africa, the Western Indian Ocean islands, the Northwestern Indian Ocean and other regions of South Asia.

The third measure to be undertaken will be to establish spatial closures as marine reserves, protecting breeding and feeding areas. Other measures include imposing temporal constraints to fishing activities in certain areas, education programmes, incentives to fishermen such as loans to buy new types of nets or boats and schemes to improve the livelihoods of local communities who rely on hunting the dugong.

The meeting concluded by suggesting a new strategy which addresses the need for combining different conservation tools and deepening coordination among marine biologists, coastal development departments and professionals working in the areas of economics, law, social sciences and marine resource management.

Pilot projects will be implemented by the governments attending the meeting, where the CMS dugong agreement received the signatures of five more countries (Bahrain, Palau, Seychelles, Vanuatu and Yemen) bringing the total to 18 signatory countries.

Yet another species is ready to bite the dust, the victim of a selfish Humankind which thinks it owns the planet and which, after it has exterminated all life around it, will face the wrath of Mother Nature. After all, the first thing any intelligent animal does when it senses Mankind is near, is to run away as fast as it can. Quite a telling statement.