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This page includes news articles of international and national interest. Seagrass-Watch HQ does not guarantee, and accepts no legal liability whatsoever arising from or connected to, the accuracy, reliability, currency or completeness of any news material contained on this page or on any linked site. The material on this page may include the views or recommendations of third parties, which do not necessarily reflect the views of the program nor it's supporters, or indicate commitment to a particular course of action

Dead Whale in Philippines Had 40 KG of Plastic Trash in Stomach

20 March 2019, The Quint (Philippines)

A starving whale with 40 kilos of plastic trash in its stomach has died after being washed ashore in the Philippines, activists said on Monday, 18 March, calling it one of the worst cases of poisoning they have seen.

That sort of pollution, which is also widespread in other southeast Asian nations, regularly kills wildlife like whales and turtles that ingest the waste.

In the latest case, a Cuvier's beaked whale died on Saturday in the southern province of Compostela Valley where it was stranded a day earlier, the government's regional fisheries bureau said.

The agency and an environmental group performed a necropsy on the animal and found about 40 kilograms of plastic, including grocery bags and rice sacks.

The animal died from starvation and was unable to eat because of the trash filling its stomach, said Darrell Blatchley, director of D' Bone Collector Museum Inc., which helped conduct the examination.

“It’s very disgusting and heartbreaking,” he told AFP. “We’ve done necropsies on 61 dolphins and whales in the last 10 years and this is one of the biggest (amounts of plastic) we’ve seen.”

The 15.4-foot (4.7-metre) long whale was stranded in Mabini town on Friday where local officials and fishermen tried to release it, only for the creature to return to shallow water, said the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

"It could not swim on its own, emaciated and weak," regional bureau director Fatma Idris told AFP. "(The) animal was dehydrated. On the second day it struggled and vomited blood."

The death comes just weeks after the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternative released a report on the "shocking" amount of single-use plastic in the Philippines, including nearly 60 billion sachets a year.

In Thailand, a whale also died last year after swallowing more than 80 plastic bags. A green turtle, a protected species, suffered the same fate there in 2018.

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Dead dugong found floating at Okinawa fishing port

19 March 2019, The Mainichi (Japan)

A dead dugong, a marine mammal designated by the central government as a natural monument, was found at a fishing port in Okinawa Prefecture on March 18, a local fisheries cooperative said.

It is highly likely that the dugong is one of only three that have been confirmed to inhabit the waters around Okinawa's main island. The prefectural government's natural conservation division is examining the cause of its death.

The dugong, which measured about 3 meters long, was found floating near a breakwater at the fishing port of Unten in Nakijin in the southernmost prefecture, according to the local fisheries cooperative. At around 5 p.m., a fisherman alerted the cooperative, and members of the organization recovered the body.

In Japan, dugongs have been confirmed to inhabit only the waters off Okinawa and they mainly feed on seaweed. An area off the Henoko district of Nago in the prefecture, where work to build a substitute facility for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the prefectural city of Ginowan is underway, is believed to be a feeding ground for dugongs.

Prior to the base relocation work, the Defense Ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau surveyed the habitat of dugongs using helicopters and reported its findings to a panel of experts.

According to the bureau's report on Jan. 22, one of the three known dugongs inhabiting the waters around Okinawa's main island was located near Kouri Island near the fishing port on Jan. 8, 2019. Another has not been seen since July 2015 and the other has not been spotted since September last year.

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Dept backs stand on dugong hunt

25 February 2019, Lakeland Observer (Thailand)

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) yesterday insisted it did not fabricate evidence of dugong hunting in Trang, as claimed by wildlife advocacy groups.

Department director-general Thanya Nethithammakul yesterday said the agency had nothing to gain from framing villagers for dugong hunting, as its duty was to preserve the seacow-like mammal.

Mr Thanya also asked wildlife activists not to point the finger at anybody for the drop in dugong numbers, but instead cooperate with officials to conserve the species and improve the fertility of seagrass habitats.

The DNP chief‘s comment came after a Trang artisanal fishery network disputed a report released by Mr Thanya last week on the drop in the mammal‘s population in the province.

The report claimed dugong populations are being threatened by a loss of fertility in the seagrass habitat and disturbance due to fishing gear and hunting.

Currently, less than 200 dugongs live in Thai waters, of which around 130-150 are found along the coastline of Koh Libong in Trang‘s Kantang district.

A department source also said the island was a black market where the sale of dugong fangs and bones could fetch up to 10,000 baht per kilogramme while the mammal‘s meat could fetch 150 baht per kilogramme.

The source claimed to have posed as a customer to buy meat believed to belong to dugong. The meat was sent to a Phuket-based marine biological centre which later confirmed it was real dugong meat.

Following these claims, fishery network chief Aren Prakong criticised the report, insisting villagers on Koh Libong have been taking part in the preservation of dugong for the past three decades.

He said they were disheartened by Mr Thanya‘s accusation.

Mr Thanya said he or his deputy Pinsak Suraswadi would visit Trang to discuss the issue with residents and wildlife networks tomorrow to build understanding among villagers.

He also asked villagers who have information about dugong hunting to cooperate with the agency.

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Improving water quality not enough to save Great Barrier Reef, study warns

19 March 2019, Environment Journal

Improving water quality won’t be enough to protect coral reefs such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from the threat of climate change, a new study has warned.

Academics from universities across Australia as well as the UK’s Lancaster University have investigated coral health across the Great Barrier Reef, which is increasingly subject to outflows of polluted water from rivers across coastal Queensland.

The study, published in the journal Nature, found that chronic exposure to poor quality water quality rate is affecting the recovery rates of corals in the Great Barrier Reef, slowly putting it under threat.

Dr. Aaron MacNeil, lead author of the study and an academic at Dalhousie University, said: ‘What we have found is that the Great Barrier Reef is an ecosystem dominated by runoff pollution, which has greatly reduced the resilience of corals to multiple disturbances, particularly among inshore areas.

‘These effects far outweigh other chronic disturbances, such as fishing, and exacerbate the damage done by crown-of-thorns starfish and coral disease.

‘Perhaps most critically, poor water quality reduced the rates at which coral cover recovers after disturbances by up to 25%. This shows that, by improving water quality, the rates of reef recovery can be enhanced.’

The team used a combination of advanced satellite imaging and coral monitoring across the Great Barrier Reef to conduct the study, which also looked at several potential climate change scenarios.

Coral reefs across the world such as the Great Barrier Reef and the UK’s Chagos Marine Reserve are more and more susceptible to coral bleaching caused by climate change, making recovery between disturbances more important.

However, the academics behind the study found that improving water quality will only go so far, as they found that no level of water quality improvement will allow current levels of coral cover to be maintained, an outcome which will have a knock-on effect on the reef tourism industry.

This has led the team to warn that there is no ‘silver bullet’ for addressing the threats facing the Great Barrier Reef, and the emphasis must remain on slowing climate change to ensure its survival.

‘Clearly, reducing river runoff can have beneficial effects on a wide range of reef corals and needs to continue,’ said Prof. Nick Graham of Lancaster University Environment Centre.

‘But for large areas of the reef that are unimpacted by water quality, we must reduce carbon emissions to slow down climate change. Without such action, the most striking and iconic parts of the reef will rapidly decline and become unrecognisable.’

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Western Pacific (WESTPAC) – Ocean Remote Sensing Project (ORSP) for Coastal Habitat Mapping Workshop

19 March 2019, UTM NewsHub (press release) (Malaysia)

The Geoscience and Digital Earth Centre (INSTeG), Research Institute for Sustainability and Environment (RISE), Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) in collaboration with IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC) had organized the WESTPAC-ORSP for Coastal Habitat Mapping Workshop. The workshop was held at the Faculty of Built Environment and Survey, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Johor Bahru from February 25th to 27th, 2019. The theme of the workshop was “Meeting for Developing a New Strategy of Coastal Habitat Mapping in the Western Pacific” and it was open to all steering committee members. Leading scientists in the discipline from various universities and institutes of Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia were invited.

This international event was aimed at providing the opportunity for researchers to conserve coastal habitats by using remote sensing in order to map the spatiotemporal distribution of coastal habitats, with an initial focus on sea-grass beds. The participants have discussed the prospect of ORSP for coastal habitat mapping. They have also planned to establish relationships within the scientific community for more collaborative efforts to enhance the work of coastal mapping in the near future.

The participants have presented various significant topics related to sea-grass changes. The review of progress and consolidated outcome from previous UNESCO/JFiT funded activities became the limelight of this workshop.

Discussion session where participants shared ideas to enhance the use of ORSP for coastal habitat mapping

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Adelaide Expansion Project Wins Government Approval

14 March 2019, Port Technology International

Flinders Ports has announced that a project to widen Port Adelaide’s Outer Harbour shipping channel and swing basin can now commence with the approval of Australia’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

In addition to a dredging licence, the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) has approved a Native Vegetation Clearance permit that will enable the operator to clear seagrass and other natural materials as part of the expansion.

Stewart Lammin, CEO of Flinders Ports, has emphasized the company’s commitment to minimizing the environmental impact of the channel widening programme, an initiative which is expected to underpin Port Adelaide’s annual US$9.9 billion contribution to the economy.
Matt Kuperholz discusses the development of a national trade community system in a recent Port Technology technical paper

Lammin said: “We have been working with representatives of the EPA, Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA) and the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), to identify any risks and establish strategies and protocols for addressing them.”

“Central to that is the use of state-of-the-art equipment to minimise turbidity, loss of seagrass and any impact on fauna, adherence to an agreed seasonal window and the imposition of comprehensive risk management protocols.”

According to a statement, Flinders Ports has contracted dredging firm Boskalis to undertake the widening project, which will begin in June 2019 and continue for three months.

Lammin has also stated that the channel widening programme will ensure the “continued global relevance” of Port Adelaide, allowing it to accommodate larger “Post Panamax” container ships that are growing in both number and size within the shipping sector.

At the moment, Port Adelaide is the only Australian capital city port unable to accommodate these vessels, damaging opportunities for trade with Southern Australia.

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Rise in marine heatwaves is harming ocean species

06 March 2018, TODAYonline

In the midst of a raging heatwave, most people think of the ocean as a nice place to cool down. But heatwaves can strike in the ocean as well as on land. And when they do, marine organisms of all kinds – plankton, seaweed, corals, snails, fish, birds and mammals – also feel the wrath of soaring temperatures.

Our new research, published this week in Nature Climate Change, makes abundantly clear the destructive force of marine heatwaves.

We compared the effects on ecosystems of eight marine heatwaves from around the world, including four El Niño events (1982-83, 1986-87, 1991-92, 1997-98), three extreme heat events in the Mediterranean Sea (1999, 2003, 2006) and one in Western Australia in 2011. We found that these events can significantly damage the health of corals, kelps and seagrasses.

This is concerning, because these species form the foundation of many ecosystems, from the tropics to polar waters. Thousands of other species — not to mention a wealth of human activities — depend on them.

We identified southeastern Australia, South-east Asia, northwestern Africa, Europe and eastern Canada as the places where marine species are most at risk of extreme heat in the future.

Marine heatwaves are defined as periods of five days or more during which ocean temperatures are unusually high, compared with the long-term average for any given place.

Just like their counterparts on land, marine heatwaves have been getting more frequent, hotter and longer in recent decades. Globally, there were 54 per cent more heatwave days per year between 1987 and 2016 than in 1925–54.

Although the heatwaves we studied varied widely in their maximum intensity and duration, we found that all of them had negative impacts on a broad range of different types of marine species.

Humans also depend on these species, either directly or indirectly, because they underpin a wealth of ecological goods and services.

For example, many marine ecosystems support commercial and recreational fisheries, contribute to carbon storage and nutrient cycling, offer venues for tourism and recreation, or are culturally or scientifically significant.

Marine heatwaves have had negative impacts on virtually all these “ecosystem services”. For example, seagrass meadows in the Mediterranean Sea, which store significant amounts of carbon, are harmed by extreme temperatures recorded during marine heatwaves.

In the summers of both 2003 and 2006, marine heatwaves led to widespread seagrass deaths.

The marine heatwaves off the west coast of Australia in 2011 and northeast America in 2012 led to dramatic changes in the regionally important abalone and lobster fisheries, respectively.

Several marine heatwaves associated with El Niño events caused widespread coral bleaching with consequences for biodiversity, fisheries, coastal erosion and tourism.

All evidence suggests that marine heatwaves are linked to human mediated climate change and will continue to intensify with ongoing global warming.

The impacts can only be minimised by combining rapid, meaningful reductions in greenhouse emissions with a more adaptable and pragmatic approach to the management of marine ecosystems. THE CONVERSATION

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Celebrating the Achievements of the GEF Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project

05 March 2017, Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals


Dr Donna Kwan from the Dugong MOU Secretariat attended the closing workshop of the Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project (DSCP) in Bali, Indonesia from 26 to 28 February 2019. The workshop was funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

The four-year project, Enhancing the Conservation Effectiveness of Seagrass Ecosystems Supporting Globally Significant Populations of Dugongs across the Indian and Pacific Ocean Basins, commenced in 2015 and covered 43 national projects across Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mozambique, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu. The CMS Dugong MOU Secretariat developed the DSCP between 2011 and 2014, drafting the proposal to United Nations Environment Programme and GEF, and working with project partners to secure funding for the identified projects. The project was executed by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, and its implementation was supported by UN Environment with scientific expertise provided by the Technical Group of the Dugong MOU.

The three-day closing workshop was attended by over 60 people, bringing together partners and advisors (including members from the Dugong Technical Group) to reflect on the achievements of the project. The first two days of the workshop focussed on looking back on what the project has achieved. Partners from each country gave presentations on their work under the themes of research, incentives, policy and education and awareness. Panel sessions followed many of the presentations, and valuable discussions ensued. During the panel dealing with research, partners were encouraged to keep using the skills and expertise they have developed under this project, and to use the knowledge collected to trigger conservation outcomes.

The final day of the workshop was spent looking forward and identifying national and regional priorities for Dugong and seagrass conservation into the future. Partners broke up into regional groups to consider what the key threats to Dugongs and seagrasses are presently, to reflect on what the drivers of these threats are and identify what actions they could take to address these.

In closing the workshop partners were encouraged to continue their efforts towards Dugong and seagrass conservation, to collaborate with each other, and to share their knowledge with the broader community.

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Abu Dhabi pupils join fight to save sea cow

04 March 2019, The National (Abu Dhabi)

Pupils don dugong masks as they stage their rally at Khalidiyah Mall

It has been described as one of the world’s ugliest mammals.

But Abu Dhabi school pupils have taken the dugong, also known as the sea cow, to their hearts in an effort to help protect the species.

Students from Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Bangladesh Islamia School and Shining Star International School have been campaigning to spread awareness of its plight.

The mammal is largely under threat due to a combination of excessive hunting, habitat loss and water pollution.

“The dugongs are found dwelling in the UAE coastal waters but their numbers have been dwindling,” said Mir Anisul Hasan, principal at the Bangladesh Islamia School.

“This campaign has been designed to spread awareness among the public not to pollute the seas so that these gentle creatures can survive.”

The UAE has led conservation efforts to help protect the dugong, the world’s only herbivorous marine mammal.

The species can grow to three metres long, weigh up to 500kg and eat some 40kg of seagrass a day.

Historically, the mammals were hunted for their meat, oil, skin, bones and teeth. Today, however, they are more threatened by a loss of habitat due to industrial development and pollution.

Despite having protected status, six dugongs were found dead on the Abu Dhabi coast in November last year, with experts blaming illegal fishing practices.

The animals - which need to come to the surface every three to 12 minutes to breathe - were thought to have drowned in abandoned drift nets.

Officially classed as vulnerable, dugongs were chosen by the Abu Dhabi schools as the focus of their campaign after the city’s Environment Agency highlighted their plight and the United Nations made plastic pollution a theme of last year’s World Environment Day.

Around two dozen pupils from the schools held rally in Khalidiyah Mall, wearing dugong masks and giving out cloth bags in an attempt to reduce plastic use.

Abu Dhabi is home to the world’s second largest population of dugongs, with around 3,000 living in the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve alone.

Some 7,000 are thought to live in the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea. Globally, they are found in seas around 40 countries in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean

The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund is a major partner in the Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project, an international initiative aimed at preserving the species and its habitat.

“Through these campaigns we aim to create a shared vision among all school students about the need to take action, however small, in order to preserve our environment," said Anita Saul, the eco-club coordinator at Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Bangladesh Islamia School.

“Students learn through these experiences that each one of them has the power to make a positive change to sustain our planet.”

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Mums with babies among dugongs sighted in Trang sea

05 March 2018, The Nation (Thailand)

The sighting of more dugongs in the Andaman sea off the coast of southern province of Trang is a good sign that the population has increased, the director of Phuket Marine Biological Centre said on Tuesday.

Dr Kongkiart Kittiwatanawong, said the centre was conducting a dugong sighting survey in the Andaman Sea around Koh Libong and Koh Muk from February 28 through to this Tuesday.

The survey was carried out by a two-seater plane piloted by a foreign captain who took along a Thai official for the count.

Each sortie spotted some 60 to 150 dugongs, including repeated encounters of pairs of mothers with babies, he said. He said the sea mammals were easily seen as the water was clear.

The head count is conducted annually to predict the survival trend of the rare species. He added that Trang has the biggest population of dugongs in the country and they live on sea grasses around Koh Libong and Koh Muk.

The aerial survey has been going on for 12 years. Last year, more than 200 dugongs were sighted in the Trang habitat, Kongkiart said.

The Phuket Marine Biological Centre is under the Marine and Coastal Resources Department.

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