Dugongs are adorable marine mammals and are commonly found in various parts of the world including Malaysia. You can find them in the states of Johor, Sabah, and Sarawak. They prance around the ocean all day, looking for seagrass to feed themselves. Generally, they look like happy mammals minding their own business. Just look at this cute gif of a dugong:
However, the probability of seeing these joyful animals may be short-lived for Malaysians. Dugongs are on a race against time as their population continues to decline since they were first spotted on our shores back in the 60s. Believe it or not, there are only about 100 dugongs left in Malaysia
About 40 to 50 dugongs are said to be left around the east coast of Kota Tinggi, Mersing, Pulau Sibu, and Pulau Tinggi in Johor. The remaining number of dugongs were recorded in Lawas and Brunei Bay in Sarawak and also off the east coast in Sabah. To rub salt into wounds, an average of three to five dugong deaths are reported each year. Isn't it sad?
According to Programme Manager of the Dugong Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and their Habitats, Dr. Donna Kwan, among threats faced by dugongs are gill fishing nets, pollution, and eroding food sources. "Sometimes the nets are set very low. When it hits the dugongs, they will panic and roll into the nets, causing them to be entangled in the nets and drown because they have to breathe every five to seven minutes. That is the biggest mortality for dugongs," she explained during a press conference yesterday.
So, what is the government doing to help prevent our friendly marine friends from being extinct?
Currently, the government, through the Department of Fisheries, has established the National Plan of Action for Protecting and Conserving Dugong and Their Habitats. A research will be conducted to identify the location of seagrass meadows throughout Malaysia. It is reported that an adult dugong could eat up to 40kg of seagrass per day.
“Dugongs are usually found in shallow waters, near the seagrass beds. If there are no more seagrass left, there will be no more dugongs,” said Fisheries Department Director-General, Datuk Ismail Abu Hassan. "Therefore, we need to conserve our seagrass meadows to ensure the dugongs remain in this country. Because in this world, Malaysia is among the few countries with dugongs. If we do not conserve them, one day there will be no more dugongs left in this country and our future generations will not know what they are," he said in the press conference.
An MoU between the Malaysian government and the Dugong Convention on Migratory Species under the United Nations Environment Programme is expected to take place by March next year to help preserve the conservation of dugongs in our country. We hope this move will be a beacon of hope for the future generations and also for our cute dugong friends.