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Authorities react to killing of Dugongs in Gizo

Image Courtesy: GBRMPA, 2012

THE recent report of a dugong killed and sold to businessmen in Gizo, Western Province over the Easter weekend emphasises one of the many challenges faced by dugong (or sea cow) populations in Solomon Islands.

According to a joint statement from the Ministry of Fisheries and the Ministry of Environment, this was the third case of dugong mortality reported for Western Province in the past 12 months.

“This kind of activity is strongly discouraged as it a setback for ongoing efforts made by communities, Community- based Organisations, Non-governmental Organisations and national agencies such as Environment & Conservation Division (ECD) and the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) and even the global scale, to promote the protection and management of these marine mammals and their associated habitats (homes).

The Ministries said globally, dugongs are considered “Vulnerable to Extinction”. Their numbers have decreased in many areas and some populations have now completely disappeared due to loss of their habitats, hunting pressures for meat, boat/ship strikes, etc. The Pacific region, Solomon Islands included, supports the world’s largest remaining population of dugongs.

“ Dugongs are also listed in Appendix I of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a convention of which Solomon Islands is also a party of, meaning commercial trade (export and import) of these animals are prohibited. Although records of sightings are high for north-east Choiseul, Honiara bay and

Guadalcanal coasts, northern Malaita, Marovo Lagoon, coasts of Isabel Province, Western Province and Temotu Province, there is still a need to determine the population status of dugongs in Solomon Islands.

“Dugongs are marine mammals, and like cows, feed on seagrass in shallow tropical waters.

“They can live up to 70 years of age and they are considered vulnerable and highly endangered because of their slow-age to maturity and their accessibility to seagrass where they are easy targets for fishers. Dugongs sexually mature around 6-10 years and can only have 1 calf every 3-5 years interval.

The calf stays with its mother during the first 18 months and cannot survive without its mother during the weaning stage. With such biology in the wild, dugongs can become easily extinct if they are fished out.

Furthermore, it is observed that Solomon Islands dugong populations are occur in small numbers and often times isolated, thus making them more vulnerable to changes in their habitat (home) or food sources.

Loss of seagrass habitats due to dynamite fishing, coastal developments, marine pollution, are some of the threats facing these animals’ survival. In addition, these sea-cows are threatened by local demand for meat during cultural feasts and events such as weddings and as displayed recently, sold for income.

“In Solomon Islands, this marine mammal is important in and to our traditions, cultures, stories and village life.

In recognising these cultural and social values and at the same time upholding the responsibility to minimise the threats to these creatures survival out in the wild.

“MFMR and ECD are working on new and tougher regulations under the Fisheries Management Act 2015i, Wildlife Protection and Management (Amendment) Act 2017 and other relevant laws to protect vulnerable and endangered species such as dugongs (turtles, dolphins, whales, etc).

They said this will ensure specific rules (regulations) are in place for the protection of dugongs from commercial activities, destruction of their habitats and protection for mother and calf. This also includes the recommendation to ban selling of dugongs’ animal and meat in any public and/or market places. Penalties and fines will be imposed for breaches of these regulations.

MECDM and ECD commends the number of communities who are committed to working with scientists, NGOs and conservation groups to continue protecting dugong populations and their associated habitats (seagrass, coral reefs, mangroves). Communities that host dugong populations are encouraged to protect these animals, and to develop local management strategies that work for them.

“We are strongly appealing to fishers and the general public to avoid targeting these animals for commercials gains and to report any sightings and killings of dugongs for our information.

“We call on communities to continue to strengthen the community- based resource management initiatives such as your taboo areas, locally managed marine areas, protected and conservation areas and even ecotourism developments as lighthouse examples of ensuring a safe and sustainable future for these unique marine

mammals living on the edge of being lost forever.

 

—MFMR, MECDCM PRESS






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