Double blow to fast disappearing Dugongs

The Navy seized two carcasses of rare Dugongs (large marine mammal) in Mannar and arrested the fishermen who had them in their possession last week.

The suspects were handed over to the police while the National Aquatic Resources Research & Development Agency (NARA) was called in for technical assistance and expertise. It was suspected that the Dugongs were killed as a result of a dynamite blast usually used to catch fish. The carcasses were brought to Colombo for a post mortem.

The Dugong known as the Muhudu Ura in Sinhala is one of the marine mammals that live in the coastal waters of Sri Lanka. Also called a Sea Cow, Dugong feeds on sea grass and other water plants that grow at the bottom of the sea. Their numbers have declined globally and in our waters and the Gulf of Mannar is believed to be one of the rare spots where this elusive species is found today.

According to internet sources more than 100 Dugongs were killed in the 1950s annually for commercial purposes until the species gained legal protection under the Fauna and Flora Protection Amendments in 1970. The Dugong has a slow rate of reproduction, so fishing has an adverse effect on its population growth. Even though the Dugong is categorized as a ‘Vulnerable’ species by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the local situation is dismal.

Once abundant, the Dugong has become a rare sight now in Sri Lanka. Although it is illegal to catch them, they get trapped in fishing nets and fall victim to fishing methods like dynamiting.

NARA chairman Dr. Hiran Jayawardene who is also a Marine Mammals expert said they were hoping to conduct more research and take urgent measures to protect the fast disappearing Dugongs in
Sri Lanka.

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