|A dugong mother and its baby|
A U.N-backed forum recently warned that dugongs, herbivorous marine mammals of tropical waters, are threatened with extinction within forty years unless serious measures ranging from replacing fishing nets to establishing marine reserves will be taken. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) recently met in Abu Dhabi, where it summarized various issues that contribute to further depletion in the animals' populations. These include illegal poaching, hunting by local communities, severe injuries from ships and boats, and vanishing of sea-grass beds. The program even stressed that regional cooperation among countries known for having these unusual marine mammals is essential for their survival. One idea suggested by the program is replacing harmful gillnets with an alternative fishing gear to reduce the mortality rates. According to Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), simple innovative tools and incentives for local fishermen have been presented to the CMS dugong agreement which might help in saving the animals from extinction. Among the steps include protection of feeding and breeding and feeding areas by establishing reserves, temporal fishing limits, and loans to fishermen to buy new boats and line-fishing gear.
A survey taken in 2008 showed that the dugongs are now extinct in the Maldives, Mauritius, Taiwan, and China. It is also declining in other waters in at least a third of the areas where they are found. Data from fishermen in twenty countries consisting of the Pacific Islands, southern Asia, and the United Arab Emirates to evaluate the threat of fishing on the animals' survival in their migratory range will be joined into a geographical information system to identify the spots where they are threatened. It will also provide important information on existing populations and present crucial habitat areas like sea-grass beds. The assessment will further extend to East Africa, the western and north-western parts of the Indian Ocean, and South Asia.
I feel that it is really helpful the United Nations have identified one of the world's most highly endangered species that requires a great deal of protection from extinction. Earlier, the U.N formed an alliance with local Central Asian governments to protect and conserve the populations of the saiga antelope. I hope that it will establish a similar partnership with governments in nations that house these animals, which were once thought to be "mermaids" by sailors during the days of exploration.