Recovery of Dugongs and their habitats in India (June 2018-July 2019)

Dugong (Dugong dugon), also called 'Sea Cow', occurs in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay, and Gulf of Kutch in India. These marine mammals are herbivores which spend their full life in the sea. They are the only extant species of the family Dugongidae. All existing members of the order Sirenia (including the Dugong) are listed as vulnerable to extinction. All populations of Dugong are also listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). Several reasons have been attributed to their population decline, some of which include seagrass habitat loss and degradation, gill netting, disease, chemical pollutants, consumptive use, and hunting. Based on stranding and opportunistic sightings of dugongs from July 2016 to 2019, it is believed that the population of the Dugong is higher than what was predicted earlier at least in the Gulf of Kutch and the same may be true for Palk Bay and the Andaman Islands but less in Gulf of Mannar. It is predicted that the dugong population in the Gulf of Kutch is about 25 individuals and 100-150 individuals in Palk Bay. Northern Palk Bay is probably a lekking site of dugongs that use the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar regions including the Sri Lanka part of sea, as more dugongs (high number of males) either stranded or incidentally capture along this coast. Based on drone surveys, preliminary analysis revealed that the encounter rate of dugongs per drone flight was higher in Andamans than other regions of India. It is planned to intensify the drone survey with help of Forest Departments coming year and planned to build capacities of frontline force of Forest Department to use the drone technology to monitor the dugongs and their associated species with providing training as well as equipment from the project.