The name Dugong comes from a Malay word which roughly translate as 'Lady of the sea'. These marine mammals are said to have inspired the legends of mermaids for hundreds of years, even now the elders of the islands believe in a mysterious creature half woman half fish.
Elusive, yet once widespread all over the world, dugongs are under serious and increasing threat.
They are the only vegetarian marine mammals, feeding exclusively on sea grass. Females slowly mature only after about 10 to 15 years, giving birth to only one calf which drinks its mothers milk for more then 4 years.
Due to poor enforcement of existing laws hunting, nets and boats are the dugongs major threats; almost killing the entire population in a short period of 40 years. In addition the coastal areas in which sea grass beds are found are very vulnerable to pollution. Runoff from land developing is having a devastating impact on fragile sea grass ecosystems on which dugong depend.
At this moment the dugongs are in constant danger,they hang on the brink of extinction.Most people would not even notice that this rare marine mammal is slipping away, but dugongs like other species are indicators of the fragile ecosystems which they live in and upon which we humans are dependant. They are indicators of our planets health.Its our reponsibility to take notice.
For the last few years a couple of Be As One founders have spent several months on a remote island in the Indian Ocean. Why? To help protect and secure the long term survival of Dugongs.
By building up community support and engagement through education and awareness programsIn March-April 2010 we also completed a very successful beach clean up program with the local school and other residents as wellas being involved with an Animal Birth Control (ABC) program for the island's street dogs .
*January 2010, The island mela was opened with a theatre production by the kids from the government school addressing key environment issues like the deforestation as well as dugong awareness.The kids posing as fishermen netted a dugong on stage, whilst others dressed up as wildlife wardens freed the dugong,the dugongs protection status was explained as well as the story linking Krishna and the holy sea cows was told on the loud speaker.We have worked with the teacher Bicash over the last 2 years and were delighted to see his dedication and focus on these issues.
*A second theatre production based on Ganesh and his protection of the dugong was shown a few nights later,this was set up by foreigners who work with a group of kids every year.This season they named themselves ´the dugongs´ and before their production the entire group went to the krishna temple to do a pudga for the dugongs of the island.
*We receive permission to place a painting of Krishna (the god who protects cows in India) blessing the dugongs in the krishna temple.The priest was pleased to put it up in full view at the front of the temple
*We encouraged everyone,foreigners and locals who care, to go to the temple for a pudga\ blessing for the dugongs.This of course involves giving a dugong donation to the priest, a strategy which has worked on other conservation projects.The first evening some locals and about 18 volunteers showed up and the priest was pleased with his donations.
*We assisted Mr Abdul Nazir, agriculture inspector with his stall at the mela, he is trying to educate the locals about organic farming,a slow process and a courageous one. We gave him a documentary, 'The Slow Poisoning of India', it was screened non stop for 7 days.He has given a copy to the nurses and doctor on the island who already recognised a common skin problem which all the farmers are suffering with,a symptom of chemical poisoning.
*This issue is indeed directly related to the sea-grass, our sea-grass survey has revealed entire fields of once pristine sea-grass are covered in algae, which we believe is from the copious amount of fertilizer (uria) and pesticides being used the island.
*We have documented the land areas adjacent to these seagrass fields being severely deforested.
*Our volunteers worked with Mr Abdul Nazir the agriculture inspector,designing and constructing a green house made out of recycled plastic bottles.
*The police chief approved of our permanent signs to be placed on the jetty at the entrance of the island,specifically for foreigners outlining do's and don'ts,in particular outlining no spearfishing. We hope this will make a difference to the conduct of tourists on the island, in the end most people do really want to do the right thing.
*Our third Dog Family Planning project was successful. We sterilized 85 stray dogs.
*On 21 March which is Global Clean up day, our volunteers and the local community joined together to clean the jetty area of the island,we collected a mountain of rubbish and had a great day.
REPORT ON JANUARY 10,2009
After the tragic death of a dugong on December 25 there has been swift action on the part of the Forest Department Chief Wildlife Warden Mr Khazansingh, Mr A.J.Saxena and Mr Yadav (d.f.o.) All three officers held meetings with all concerned parties and discussed possible solutions for ensuring the safety and welfare of the remaining dugong population.
These were some of the solutions that were voiced during the meetings ~The dugongs habitat and feeding areas will be protected ~No nets will be allowed in this protected zone, or in a 2 km radius around the island ~ Outside fishermen will be strictly prohibited from fishing in waters they are not licenced for. ~Game fishing operations will not be allowed to enter the islands waters, as these boats pose a mortal threat to both snorkelers and dugongs ~A nominal fee will be charged for any tourists entering and will be given to the fishermen. ~Fishermen will also be given the opportunity for alternative income.
This has been a wake up call which has focused attention on the importance of protecting this fragile ecosystem which this community depends on for sustinence and financial income.
The wheels of change and of dugong protection have finally begun...And let us hope that this tragedy sparks much more protection for these incredible creatures,in all of these islands..not only this one.
We have heard all the words...now we are waiting for actions!
Thankyou to Katia and Elena for organizing this peacful demonstration representing how the tourists feel about saving the sea cows.
2008 UPDATE AND WORKING WITH WSOS
Some viewers may find the photos and article on this page disturbing.
Dec 25th 2008 ANOTHER SLAUGHTERED DUGONG written by Nori and Lucan
This Chrismas day another female dugong was butchered by fisherman.
We found her chopped in half,lying in blood.Her body did not even smell bad...so we knew she was freshly caught.Her body was pierced with multiple spear wounds. Flesh was missing from her eye.Blood still dripped onto the coral.Pieces of her were visibly hacked away by a machete.Worse still a young calf was spotted by snorkellers on this very beach only one week ago...this was probably its mother,we saw the mammary glands under her two fins. There is not much chance of her calf's survival. As with all marine mammals, mother/calf bonds are very strong.A baby dugong needs its mother for at least 6 years. This latest killing has sent out a very serious threat of extinction for the dugongs in these parts.And we have been utterly shocked and horrified that now, in 2008, local people can STILL be so insensitive to their heritage as to butcher a dugong.
In fact this is evidence of malicious intent to catch and kill yet another shedule 1 protected species. Remember the last dugong killed here on Jan 2008, a total of 3 in the space of 1 year.
That time a breeding female was also killed, hacked to death on the jetty in plain sight of everyone. In January 2008 a juvenile was speared to death. In fact we see numerous protected species are chopped up in plain sight,every day,and no one ever pays for their crimes.
Has there been ANY arrests for crimes against Shedule 1 protected species... at ANY time ?
It seems that the culprits continue to obliterate the future of these islands. Like it or not, admit it or not... the ocean's resources really are the future.
There is a large number of children on this Island..the future of these children DEPENDS on a sustainable future from natural resourses like the coral reef, ocean life and dugong populations. This is truly a terribly sad day..a huge part of the natural heritage and economic future o has been stolen. We are asking for action. There needs to be a ban on fishing nets and fast sport fishing boats.The fishermen can fish in the deep waters where there are plenty of big fish. The coral reef and sea grass areas must be strictly forbidden to fish on and srictly monitured.a 2 km safe zone must be set up around these precious islands if Dugongs are to stay part of Indias heritage.
TIME AND DATES OF EVENTS,25 DECEMBER
10.30AM, We saw a flag set up,attached to a buoy, directly out from an area which is documented dugong habitat.We immediately swam out and released a porcupine stingray(1 and a half meters big) as well as a napolean wrasse and one bat fish,the nets were right from the coral reef (barely 100 meters from the beach)and across the sea grass meadow (we have photographic evidence of dugong feeding trails on either side of the nets)
2.30pm Sam Nunes (India Scuba Explorers) alerted us about the butchered sea cow. ~only 2 weeks ago, this very female dugong was interacting with divers, on the 9th of december 2008 at 10.15am,was very friendly and approached their the boat She is easily identified because of the white marks on her back, and we have named her Angel, and hope her death was not in vain
3.15pm We arrived at the scene of the crime and found the butchered body, surrounded by fisherman,who ran to the bushes as soon as we got a camera out, we have photos of these boats at the scene and their licences,two boats had licences, one without.We documented the scene and were devastated to find that this dugong was intentionally caught.We have photos of fresh spear and stab marks all over her body,with blood still running.Half of her body was hacked away with freshly chopped flesh,there was only half of her left,her entire tail was missing we believe it was used for bait or to eat..Locals have told us that the tail part is good to eat. There was no bad smell so we suspect it was done only that night
The underbelly had not yet turned purple,so it was fresh~the first postmortom ever done on a dugong here, was performed by Dr Alagan.
4.00pm Lucan remained with the carcass while officals turned up..these were the pradan,the CID,the chief of police,the deputy ranger was not on the island, so when we phoned he sent his chief of staff,
The very next morning we took the photographic evidence to the world the pressure came down swiftly and officials arrived on the island.Many official meetings and discussions took place.We hope to get the safe radius around the island.
ONGOING AWARNESS PROGRAMS 2007
Our dugong awareness evenings went very well with many villagers and children attending, as well as researchers Elrika and Verdhan.With their borrowed projector we screened movies on coral and marine life in the market area, as well as showing our dugong video clips,locals had never seen what a dugong looked like before.We painted large posters incorporating the gods Ganesh and Krishna both blessing a sea cow. The local name has conveniently been changed to sea 'pig' which is why they are being eaten many are convinced already,but with a little more work and awareness they will come to see them as sea 'cows'. Cows are holy in India and cannot be killed so this is all good for our campaign.We are also using the local Krishna temple to support our holy cows of the sea,with an appropriate legend that links up with the sea cows in the gulf of Kutch(Gudjarat, India)
We spend a productive morning at a small school showing footage and translating into the local language helped by researcher Parimal Solanki.
We have been invited to visit more schools and feel that a permanent environmental awareness programme for the children is so important to implement before these islands are irreparably damaged by ignorance, a regular environmental education program focusing on the children, will have many long term benefits (there are actually more children then adults on the island)
MEETING WITH THE FISHERMEN and addressing key issues
A meeting with the mayor,the CID official,the fisheries director, the wildlife warden and about 25 fisherman attended to speak about the importance of dugongs and the penalty of killing them.We showed them our dugong footage...helping them understand that they are actually worth more alive then dead. We feel strongly that an intensive educational program is needed for the fisherman before the reef is lost. We believe in working with the locals here and now to solve the problems of overfishing,coral damage,lack of mooring buoys,killing of dugongs and turtles.
PUTTING UP POSTERS AROUND THE ISLAND
Posters thanks to Elrika and Verdhan from ReefWatch
These highlight some information about dugongs and also a bold warning. We have put them up all over the island,including the fish market and shown the dugong footage to many villagers around the areas where the posters are.We feel much more work is needed with the locals who live on the island.