Ecological studies on the Dugong dugon of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands: A step towards species conservation

Although widely distributed, little is known about the dugong in most of the areas of occurrence. In India, information about the animal is patchy and restricted to sighting, stranding and mortality records. Historically dugongs were abundant in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, but hunting and habitat loss has led to the decline in their numbers. Conservation efforts for dugongs around the Andaman and Nicobar islands have been hindered due to the vastness of the area and a lack of understanding of the species and its habitat. Our project aimed at a gaining local knowledge of the species through a study on its habitat and characteristics of seagrass meadows that affect site use by dugongs. The project was also trageted to increase awareness among local communities in order to contribute to an increased protection of the animal. Through our project, we have identified seagrass meadows that are used and likely to be used by dugongs, carried out education programs in different villages where dugongs are known to occur and identified seagrass meadow characteristics that lead to habitat use by dugongs. The study forms a baseline for future studies and importance of dugong habitat monitoring on a longer timescale is outlined.