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More than 25000 green turtles to arrve on Raine Island for nesting season

23 November 2016, Newsport (Australia)

More than 25,000 turtles are expected at the remote Raine Island on the northern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. IMAGE: Suppled.

RESEARCHERS from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service were kept busy on their first trip to Raine Island this month for the current green turtle nesting season, tagging more than 1200 turtles.

Environment Minister Dr Steven Miles said this season approximately 25,000-30,000 turtles were expected to come ashore to lay at the remote island on the northern tip of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

“The research team was kept very busy, with more than 1,200 turtles tagged and measured during the 13-day trip,” Dr Miles said.

“And it's expected the pace will pick up even more for the next research trip, which will be heading to Raine Island on Monday, 28 November 2016.”

The Raine Island Recovery Project is a five-year, $7.95 million collaboration between BHP Billiton, the Queensland Government, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Wuthathi Nation and the Kemer Kemer Meriam Nation (Ugar, Mer, Erub) Traditional Owners and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

This is the third intensive monitoring season since part of the nesting beach was re-shaped to combat erosion that was badly affecting the turtles’ chances of nesting successfully.

Raine Island Recovery Project Scientist and turtle researcher Dr Andy Dunstan said the numbers of turtles visiting Raine Island fluctuates each year because turtles do not nest annually.

“Three years ago around 60,000 green turtles nested on Raine Island, while last year there were around 5,000,” Dr Dunstan said.

“We are expecting the numbers of nesting turtles to increase this year to around 25,000-30,000 with numbers varying from 5,000 to 60,000 in the following years.”

Dr Dunstan said a series of research trips to Raine Island were planned for the current breeding season, which ends in April 2017, to closely monitor the resilience of the green turtle population that nests on the island.

More information: Click Here



Seagrass spotters sought

22 November 2016, West Highland Free Press (UK)

A marine conservation charity is urging West Highland residents to record sightings of a coastal plant they say is under threat.

Seagrass populations are disappearing due to pollution, climate change and human disturbance, according to researchers from Project Seagrass.

The flowering plant — which lives under the waves in shallow, sheltered areas of the coast — are places where young fish like cod, haddock, plaice and herring grow and hide.

The charity want to get the public to use a simple ‘Seagrass Spotter’ app. They are asking people to take a picture of any seagrass sightings around the coast, allowing researchers to build a map of where seagrass is present around the islands.

The ‘Seagrass Spotter’ app can be found at

More information: Click Here



Marine Conservation Zone could protect Isle of Wight seagrass

18 November 2016, Isle of Wight County Press (UK)

FIVE hundred acres of seagrass meadow, off the Isle of Wight, could be protected as part of a Marine Conservation Zone.

The government has announced proposals for a third tranche of areas across the UK to protect marine life.

The stretch of sea between Norris and Ryde has been proposed by as an area worthy of protection.

An area around the Needles has already been designated as an MCZ, as one of 50 already protected areas across the country.

The Norris to Ryde section was original proposed when MCZ were first consulted on, but was dropped, much to the disappointment of the Hampshire and IW Wildlife Trust.

It is home to seagrass covering an area equivalent to 200 football pitches, which helps prevent erosion and to stabilise the sea bottom.

It also provides hiding places for fish and other creatures to live and spawn.

Melissa Moore, of the Marine Conservation Society said: "The 50 Marine Conservation Zones being recommended by the government’s scientific advisors are essential to ensure we are protecting examples of all habitats. They will allow a proportion of our seas to begin to recover from over a century of damage and contribute to the restoration of biodiversity in our seas. We call on government to include all these sites in their third tranche consultation next summer."

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More than 30 rare dugongs filmed off coast of Western Region town

17 November 2016, The National (Abu Dhabi)

A group of about 36 dugongs were spotted and filmed in waters off the Western Region this week. Photo Credit: Shamsa Al Hameli

A nature enthusiast managed to capture on film more than 30 rare dugongs, including cows with their calves, in the Western Region.

The footage was taken this week by Shamsa Al Hameli on the edges of the Marawah ­Marine Biosphere Reserve, near the town of Mirfa.

Ms Al Hameli is an environmental biology graduate and co-founder of the Abu Dhabi Marine Conservation Group, which raises awareness about rare marine animals and the need to protect them.

Taken from a drone, the video shows a group of about 36 dugongs feeding on sea grass, while people in two kayaks ­observe them.

"They were really calm, usually they keep swimming away after a while," Ms Al Hameli said.

The Abu Dhabi resident first started recording sightings of dugongs and other rare marine creatures five years ago.

For the past four years she has used drones to film her findings, which are reported to the Environment Agency Abu ­Dhabi.

Sometimes Ms Al Hameli finds bodies of the rare animals washed up on the shore after ­being caught up in fishing nets.

Luckily, the group of dugongs Ms Al Hameli recorded this week appeared to be in good health.

Kathleen Russell, Padi course director at Desert Islands ­Watersports Centre on Sir Bani Yas Island and Al Mahara Diving Centre in Abu Dhabi, was one of the kayakers who got up close to the dugongs. She said the experience was amazing and the group was the largest she has ever seen.

"We were just in a kayak and not moving, not making any sound, not disturbing them at all," she said.

"They were eating grass, ignoring us. During that time there was another group near by as well. It really makes you want to protect their habitat and protect the species.

"Knowing that the UAE has the largest population of dugongs outside Australia – we are really proud about that."

About 1,500 dugongs live in the Marawah reserve. The placid mammals can weigh up to 300 kilograms. They are harmless to people and feed on sea grass.

Mrs Russell was accompanied on the kayaking trip by Ian ­Cundy and Dave Johnston, from the Nautical Archaeological ­Society in the United Kingdom, who were in the capital to teach a specialised marine archaeology course.

Nine people, mostly diving instructors, attended the three-day course organised by Mrs Russell in conjunction with Freestyle Divers. a community scuba diving centre.

Participants learnt how to survey and record sites of possible archaeological interest without disturbing them.

"It is not about finding something and bringing it up and maybe showing everybody, because by the time it gets to the surface, if it is really old, it is going to start deteriorating very quickly when exposed to air and oxygen," Mrs Russell said.

"Along this coastline as well as the eastern coastline we know there are shipwrecks," she said.

"As divers, if we are more vigilant, we may be able to see and report to the competent authority.

"There are not enough eyes under water to see, it is such a huge coastline and there is a lot of history under water."

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Scullion backs hunting of endangered animals

14 November 2016, TropicNow (Australia)

Federal Minister Nigel Scullion likes to speak his mind, even if it means disagreeing with colleague Warren Entsch on the contentious issue of traditional hunting.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has defended traditional hunting at a graduation ceremony for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rangers in Cairns.

Native title laws allow traditional owners to hunt endangered turtles and dugongs.

Wildlife identity Bob Irwin has recently called for a moratorium on current practices but Mr Scullion says hunting isn’t the problem.

“There is evidence to demonstrate it is sustainable and there is no evidence to demonstrate it isn’t,” he says.

“Yes, there are some threats to dugongs and turtles. But none of them come from the ocean, they all come from the land and they’re all associated with degradation of habitat.”

Indigenous ranger Mick Hale runs a turtle hospital, Yuku-Baja-Muliku, with his wife, Larissa, at Archer Point more than 300 kilometres north of Cairns.

“We started about six years ago,” Mr Hale says. “It came about around the time Cyclone Larry and Cyclone Yasi decimated our seagrass beds.

“We noticed a lot of sick turtles around [with no food], so instead of letting them die we started a turtle hospital.

Traditional hunting can be sustainable, Mr Hale says.

The biggest challenge for us is getting the public to understand that traditional hunting is the smallest percentage of mortality for turtles and dugongs,” he says.

“We’ve got environmental impacts, habitat destruction, global climate change.

“These are all massive contributors to the demise of turtle and dugong populations.”

The Hales are currently caring for three turtles - two green sea turtles and a hawksbill.

“We just do it because it’s what we do,” Ms Hale says. “We look after country and after people so that we do have a sustainable future.”

Injinoo ranger Cristo Lifu says rescuing five olive ridley sea turtles from ghost nets with fellow Cape York rangers recently was a powerful experience.

“They were stranded and stuck in a net,” Mr Lifu says.

“We rescued them but it was lucky we were there. Because if not, they would have been dead in another two or three days.

“It’s just about caring for country. Our elders looked after country before us and it’s our time now to take over.”

Mr Scullion won’t be backing down on the issue of traditional hunting, despite calls from fellow Coalition MP Warren Entsch for further investigation.

“I’m drawing a line in the sand,” he says. “There’s a battle looming and I’m standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our countrymen on this.”

Despite speculation former Prime Minister Tony Abbott wants his job, Mr Scullion says he has no intention of vacating the role.

“It’s complete garbage,” he says. “I’ve said ‘While I’m allowed to be Indigenous Affairs Minister for this term of government I will stay here’. Everything else is completely gammon.

“I’ll be staying here alongside countrymen at least until the next election and who knows after that.”

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How Do You Spot an 800-Pound Sea Cow? With a Drone

12 November 2016, TakePart (Australia)

Dugongs—Australia’s version of the lovably chubby manatees of Florida—are hard to keep track of.

Though they can weigh up to 800 pounds, dugongs can be hard to find in a large expanse of ocean. Photo credit: Amanda Hodgson

Despite growing up to 10 feet in length and weighing 800 pounds, dugongs are just needles in a haystack when it comes to locating individuals in the open ocean. For scientists trying to monitor the endangered species, that’s a problem.

The marine mammals are under threat from boat strikes, fishing net entanglements, and habitat destruction, so obtaining accurate data on dugong populations is critical to conservation efforts.

Now researchers at Australia’s Murdoch University and Queensland University have combined drone technology with spatial imaging software to scan, photograph, and identify dugongs over large areas of open water.

Amanda Hodgson, a dugong researcher at Murdoch University, has been deploying drones since 2010 to take images of their habitat off the coast of Queensland, in the Torres Strait, and in Shark Bay off Western Australia.

While the drones did the photographing, humans like Hodgson were left to pore over the images, trying to identify the little gray specks that signified a dugong on the waters below.

The research team has stared at more than 30,000 photographs of blue water, searching for dugongs—a time-consuming endeavor. To speed things up, Hodgson recruited computer scientist Frederic Maire from Queensland University.

The team used Google-developed software called TensorFlow, a machine-learning platform that can be taught to pick out sea cows in photos automatically. But first, team members had to upload the images and point out where the dugongs were to the system, so it could learn to identify them.

The system is now searching images on its own. Maire told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the program is detecting about 80 percent of dugongs in the photos, and the rate is expected to improve over time.

“To train this deep neural network you need a lot of data. Initially we didn’t have much data, so we do this incrementally,” he said. “The more the neural network is provided with examples, the better it will get.”

The team believes the software could work for other species, including whales, koalas, and sharks.

“We can imagine a drone patrolling the beaches, trained to detect sharks, and if a shark is detected, then send a text message to lifeguards to warn them,” Maire said.

More information: Click Here


Call to help map coastline plant

12 November 2016, John O'Groat Journal (UK)

CAITHNESSIANS are being called on to help build a map of where seagrass can be found around northern Scotland.

Seagrass is a flowering plant which lives under the waves in shallow, sheltered areas of coastlines. However, with pollution on the rise, climate change and human disturbance, populations are disappearing.

The Scottish marine conservation charity Project Seagrass is trying to monitor and map remaining populations.

It is asking for people’s help by using a Seagrass Spotter app to take a picture of any seagrass sightings around the coast.

Researchers believe with so little known about the seagrass around Caithness, the chances are people will be discovering populations no one has found before.

Healthy seagrass meadows are places for young fish to grow, hide and find food. Other benefits of the underwater gardens include more oxygen to breathe, more carbon being locked away in their leaves and roots, and protection for sandy coastlines.

The app can be found on both the app and play store or at

More information:Click Here


All hunting of dugongs, turtles must end: activist

11 November 2016, The Australian (Australia)

Wildlife activist Colin Riddell has criticised the government’s ­attempts to crack down on illegal indigenous hunting of dugongs and sea turtles, saying it must also target law-abiding Aborigines who take the animals for person­al, domestic or communal needs.

The declaration comes as three federal ministers commit to talk to indigenous rangers and the Queensland state government to spearhead moves that could see more “no take’’ zones introduced in a bid to stop the vulnerable ­species being poached and traded, as revealed in The Australian last month.

Influential crossbench senator Derryn Hinch, who has flagged support for a “100 per cent ban” on the practice, is also set to travel to north Queensland by year’s end to learn more about the issue and increase pressure on the government to act.

“We are no better than the Japanese. They (indigenous ­people) are doing exactly what the Japanese do to the whales with the sea turtles — chopping them up and selling them,” Senator Hinch said.

Mr Riddell, the self-described “dugong man” and a campaigner with the Bob Irwin Wildlife Found­ation, said there should be no hunting of dugongs and sea turtles or other endangered ­species and urged government to focus on legal practices.

“The illegal take, while important, is not the biggest threat — ­unmonitored, uncontrolled legal hunting is,” he said.

“We believe freight should be subsidised into remote areas to ensure communities purchase food as cheaply as other areas down south.

“Then the excuse that communities would be deprived of protein is removed. This is about the very survival of species, not someone’s culture or beliefs.”

Under native title laws, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can hunt marine turtles and dugongs for “personal, ­domestic or non-commercial communal needs”.

But Senator Hinch claimed people were killing and “chasing” the animals in powered motorboats with guns and said this conduct could not be part of any culture: “This isn’t killing for ­survival.”

The North Australian Indig­en­ous Land and Sea Management Alliance says commerc­ia­l­isation claims have been found to be “unsubstantiated”, while envir­onmental groups point out that dugongs and turtles face far greater threats than hunting, including loss of habitat, marine debris and coastal development.

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AI experts build 'neural network' to help researchers search for dugongs

10 November 2016, ABC Online (Australia)

Dugong expert Dr Amanda Hodgson estimates she has stared at more than 30,000 photographs of blue water.

"You can go mad doing that I think," she said.

"It's really taxing on your eyes and it's hard to maintain concentration."

The researcher from WA's Murdoch University has been scanning pictures captured by aerial drones in a search for dugongs, to work out their population, size and location.

Globally dugongs are classed as "vulnerable to extinction" and are found in waters off the northern half of Australia.

"There are areas where they're quite vulnerable because their habitat overlaps with coastal development."

Dr Hodgson said aerial surveys were regularly conducted off the coast of Queensland, in the Torres Strait and Shark Bay off Western Australia.

But drones had allowed researchers to survey areas that previously could not be reached.

"You don't need a runway, you don't need the amount of fuel and you can actually launch and retrieve the drones from a ship," Dr Hodgson said.

But it also meant researchers had to manually check the tens of thousands of images they captured.

That has taken a team hundreds of hours.

"It's the time factor that's the problem, so we were hoping to automate that image processing ... but that's very a challenging task even for a computer," she said.

Enter Queensland University of Technology artificial intelligence expert Dr Frederic Maire.

He and a colleague used software called TensorFlow to create an artificial neural network to detect dugongs in the aerial images.

Dr Maire said it had to be trained to spot dugongs, with researchers uploading images and pointing out the mammals.

"Whether it should be classified as 'there is a dugong in this window' or 'there is no dugong in this window'," Dr Maire said.

Now the network is searching images on its own.

It scans the tens of thousands of photos of blue water and identifies dugongs.

The system's detections are then verified by Dr Hodgson's team.
'Training' network to get better

Dr Maire said it had been detecting 80 per cent of the dugongs, but its success rate was expected to improve.

"To train this deep neural network you need a lot of data. Initially we didn't have much data, so we do this incrementally," he said.

"The more the neural network is provided with examples, the better it will get."

The researchers believe the possibilities for the technology are endless.

Work is underway to use it to monitor whales, and Dr Maire said it could also detect koalas and sharks.

"We can imagine a drone patrolling the beaches, trained to detect sharks, and if a shark is detected then send a text message to lifeguards to warn them," he said.

More information: Click Here


Spike in turtle deaths along the Kosgoda coastal belt GILL KILL

09 November 2016, Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)


Aquatic species endemic to Sri Lanka are found in abundance along the coastal belt and in other ecosystems. Yet due to various activities carried out by humans, these species have faced threats of extinction. One such aquatic creature is the sea turtle. Sri Lanka is home to five different species of turtles that are found in various habitats. However, it was reported that during the last five to ten months, many turtles have been killed due to suspicious fishing activities, especially along the Kosgoda coastal belt. In an attempt to find more details regarding this sudden phenomenon, the Daily Mirror visited the area and spoke to a few individuals including those attached to turtle hatcheries.

When the Daily Mirror visited the Victor Hasselblad Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Centre in Kosgoda, we learned that turtles had been victims of various inhumane fishing activities, which had been carried out during the recent past.

Speaking to us, the owner of this turtle conservation centre, Chandrasiri Abrew said that turtles are usually eaten by sharks or due to gill nets used by fishermen.
Gill nets are fishing nets that are hung vertically, so that fish get trapped in them by their gills. “There’s no point in breeding them because they are killed once released to the sea. People also use dynamite for fishing and this is another killer.

“The seashore is no more a safe place for turtles to lay eggs. The waste from the hotels, polythene and other materials, have polluted these areas. Turtles have a higher tendency to feed on polythene, because it appears to them like jellyfish. These creatures usually live for a long time but it is sad that they are dying at a rapid rate.”
One significant feature of this turtle conservation centre is that it treats turtles, who have met with various accidents, while at sea including shark attacks or even those who have collided with fishing boats. In addition to that it is also home to turtles that have been born with various disabilities.

“During the days of the tsunami, the fishermen were given various equipment to carry out fishing activities, many of which have been hazardous for other marine creatures,” Amarasena Fernando, the owner of Amarasena Turtle Hatchery in Kosgoda said.

“The Green Turtle usually comes to the surface of the sea to breathe in fresh air and during these instances these creatures most often encounter these accidents. Also there are new hotels being built in the vicinity and all the waste is dumped in to the sea. This is one of the major threats that we face right now.

“Why many of these Green Turtles got killed is a mystery and we think that it is due to these careless fishing activities. When the turtle gets entangled in the nets, they do not have a way to move out. Therefore they die after some time. We believe that within another 15-20 years, the turtle will be an extinct species in Sri Lanka. Another thing that we should understand is that as soon as baby turtles are born, we shouldn’t release them to the sea. This eventually becomes meat for the sharks and other big fish.”

During the recent past, news of a missing albino turtle made headlines. Mr. Fernando said that when a new species is born and bred, our people try to export it to other countries.

“This too is a tragedy. We have no control over these activities and therefore the Wildlife Department and other authorities should be involved in controlling these activities and saving the turtles.”

Speaking to the Daily Mirror, the General Manager/ Chief Executive Officer of the Marine Environment Protection Authority Dr. Terney Pradeep Kumara said that turtles were air-breathing creatures and therefore had to come to the surface to breathe.

“The extensive use of gill nets are the probable cause of these sudden deaths. Once they come to the surface they get entangled in these nets and drown,” he said.
“Thereafter they are brought to the shore and are skinned for meat and other purposes. This is one reason.

“Another reason is the fact that turtles feed on jellyfish. But when they see polythene they think that they are jellyfish. In addition to that fishermen use dynamite for fishing which causes high pressure waves.

“Since many turtles have been killed during the last few months as reported, I believe a proper investigation including autopsies on dead turtles should be conducted.
“What needs to be done it to impose a ban on gill nets because they are harmful to dolphins as well.

Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Mahendra Jayatilleka representing the National Aquatic Resources Authority (NARA) said that so far no survey had been done to find out the reducing number of turtles.

“However we will be conducting a survey next year. In addition to that we will also be considering the alteration of the quality as well as the features of various fishing gear used by fishermen in order to reduce the threats faced by other marine organisms.”

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Growing grass in the sea: Why replanting eelgrass is so important for PEI

07 November 2016, (USA)

The oyster shells each contain several strands of eelgrass. Photo credit: Nancy Russell/CBC

Eelgrass is disappearing in eastern P.E.I., in part because of nitrates mostly from the agricultural zone. When excess fertilizer gets in the water, it causes sea lettuce to grow rapidly and it smothers the eelgrass, which gets no light and dies.

Now a local environmental group is fighting back, by learning how to re-grow the seagrass.

"We started last year saying, can we transplant eelgrass and can we basically make a little garden plot and see if we can do it," explained Fred Cheverie, long-time coordinator of the Souris and Area Branch of the Wildlife Federation.

Cheverie started by doing research and talking to people who've tried transplanting eel grass in other parts of Canada. They came up with a method that he describes as "fairly cheap and it works."
Oyster shells as anchors

In the fall of 2015, Cheverie and his crew decided to create a plot of eelgrass, 10 metres square, in the estuary of the Souris River. They waited until the water temperature dropped below 15 degrees, and then collected eelgrass shoots that washed ashore during a storm, storing them in a cooler filled with saltwater.

Next, they experimented with shells, looking for a way to anchor the eelgrass shoots to the ocean bottom.

Oyster shells, it turned out, worked best. Using an electric drill, they created half a dozen or so holes per oyster shell.

"We took the eelgrass shoot and weaved it through the holes so that the root part would be in the bottom and the concave part was on top," said Cheverie.

"Then we simply go out in the area and we let it drop to the bottom in that area and what happens is the sand fills up in the little concave system and it weighs it down and holds it there and that gives an opportunity for the little grass shoots to catch and start to grow."
Putting it to the test

The experiment worked, but Cheverie and his crew wanted to be sure.

"It worked out fantastically and we said, was that luck?" he explained.

"So we said let's go and try another 10 by 10 plot this year and see if we do it two years then we can go around and say we know how to plant eel grass and we know how to make it grow."

This year's eelgrass planting is in a different part of the Souris River, upstream from the estuary. But Cheverie is very aware that the experiment could still go wrong.

"Our big fear and our big problem is if we go and put the eelgrass in an area where there are green crabs, we're kind of feeding them right?"

This year's planting is the first of the three year project. For this fall, the group has received $1,500 in funding from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Future plans

Cheverie and his team will monitor both plots of eelgrass, in the hopes that they are landed on a formula that works.

"The idea is down the road, some day, we look at a place like Basin Head, which is a Marine Protected Area and is void of eelgrass due to the high green crab population, that we might be able to at some point restore that in the future."

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Call for signage to save dugong from jetskis and boaties

04 November 2016, Redland City Bulletin (Australia)

A RESIDENT has called for signage at boat ramps, warning jet ski and speed boat drivers of large numbers of dugong and calves in southern parts of the bay.

Dave Knight said he had lived in the Redlands for 30 years and never seen so many dugong.

Last week more than 20 were between Pannikin and St Clair islands over seagrass beds.

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Fisheries Department calls for MoU on dugong conservation

03 November 2016, Astro Awani(Malaysia)

The Fisheries Department hopes the government would sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Dugong Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) by March next year to help preserve the conservation of dugongs in the country.

Its director-general Datuk Ismail Abu Hassan said the signing of the MoU was vital to enable Malaysia to be part of an international platform for protecting and conserving the dugong species as it has been involved in dugong conservation since 1998.

"At present, 26 countries have already signed the MoU with CMS. Not many countries have dugong in their waters and in Malaysia, more than 100 dugongs have been discovered with the majority in Johor.

"We even have a rescue centre for injured dugongs in Johor," Ismail told a press conference on 'Global Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project' here yesterday.

The Dugong MoU aims to promote internationally coordinated action to ensure the long-term survival of dugongs and their seagrass habitats throughout their extensive range.

Ismail said the distribution of dugongs in Malaysia primarily lies in Johor, Sarawak and Sabah where in Johor alone, at least 26 dugongs have been observed by the Fisheries Department alongside the Marine Park Department.

"Dugongs have been observed based on aerial surveys in the east coast of Kota Tinggi, Mersing, Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tinggi.

"In Sabah, dugongs were recorded in the Sandakan Bay and Labuk Bay areas, Pulau Tambisan, Kota Kinabalu harbour, Kuala Penyu, Labuan Island, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Banggi and in Sarawak dugongs were spotted in the Brunei Bay and Lawas," he added.

Meanwhile, the Programme Manager responsible for the implementation of the Dugong MoU under the United Nations Environment Programme, Dr Donna Kwan said dugongs required 40kg of seagrass a day to survive.

"Therefore, we hope that Malaysia would sign the MoU, in order for us to carry out various projects to help in conservation, one of which is through providing sufficient amounts of seagrass to the dugong species," she said during the press conference.

She said dugongs faced a high risk of being drowned in the midst of seeking seagrass for food by getting entangled in fish gear as dugongs need to breathe every seven to five minutes.

In collaboration with various agencies, the Fisheries Department had in 2015 introduced the Turtle Excluder Device (TED) to shrimp trawl fishermen in the east coast that have not only saved turtles but juvenile dugongs entangled in shrimp trawl nets.

Dugongs are protected under the Fisheries Act 1985 and the Fisheries Regulations 1999 (Control of Endangered Species of Fish) for Peninsular Malaysia and Federal Territories of Labuan, Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998 and the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 for Sarawak and Sabah.

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Let us Save Malaysia's last Dugongs

203 November 2016, Clean Malaysia (Malaysia)

Among Malaysia’s least-known residents is a species of shy marine mammals. They look remarkably like seals and are almost as elusive as the mythical mermaids that people used to mistake them for. We’re talking of dugongs, of course.

Dugongs are among the rarest wild creatures in the country with a mere 100 of them left, in all, in the waters of Johor, Sabah and Sarawak. Worse: Each year several dugongs perish from preventable causes; namely, human interference and negligence. A leading cause of dugong deaths is fishing nets in which the mammals may get entangled until they drown, according to a conservationist. As a mother dugong stays inseparable from her calf, nets can pose a danger to both.

Several other dugongs are known to have died after getting caught in the propellers of ships. Their bad eyesight further exposes these placid creatures to such dangers. They use whistles, growls and other sounds to communicate with one another. It is because of these their vocalization and aquatic lifestyle that dugongs may have served as the inspiration for ancient tales of mermaids and sirens.

They are slow-moving animals with the fluke-like tails of dolphins and possess few defenses against predators like saltwater crocodiles and sharks. That, too, exposes them to potential harm.

Known as “sea cows,” dugongs are evolutionary relatives of manatees and can be found here and there, in small numbers, from East Africa all the way to Australia. They are also distant relatives of elephants, and like them they are herbivorous. Day and night dugongs graze on underwater beds of seagrass, often in shallow waters, rooting for seagrass with their sensitive snouts. They can stay underwater for up to six minutes at a time. Occasionally they breath by rising up on their tail in shallow water, as if they were “standing,” and keep their heads above water.

Sadly, their feeding habits, too, can expose them to dangers like that of getting caught accidentally in fishing nets. They are also at increasing risk because of the usual causes that affect a large variety of wildlife, both in water and on land: habitat loss, pollution and the diminishing of food sources.

As elsewhere around the world, the Malaysian population of the animals has dropped alarmingly. A half century ago there were several hundred dugongs in Malaysia’s waters; today a fraction of that number remains.

It didn’t help that in the past local orang asli communities actively hunted dugongs in order to feast on their meat, which they considered a tasty delicacy. Local traditions also attributed magical and curative properties to the “tears” and certain body parts of the marine mammals, like their bones. “Some people have even offered financial rewards to fishermen in the village if they manage to catch a dugong alive,” a local resident in Gelang Patah, in Johor, recently explained in a newspaper interview.

Another local added: “It was once common for fishermen to spot dugongs grazing on the seabed during low tide but now it has become a rare sighting.” Sadly, these days locals tend to have sightings of dugongs only after the animals have died and their corpses show up floating in the water, so rare have dugongs become in an area where they once thrived.

That should give us pause. We’ve driven to the brink of extinction an animal that we hardly even realize continues to exist away from prying eyes in marine pockets here and there around the country.

Frantic conservation efforts are under way to save those that are left. Focusing on two key sites, at Sibu and Tinggi islands as well as the waters of Lawas in Sarawak, the Malaysia Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project has been closely monitoring resident populations of the shy creatures.

But to save the dugongs, we also need to save their habitat and primary food source: seagrass. A fully grown dugong can consume as much as 40kg of seagrass in a single day and to find that much grass they need to have ample roaming space where they are left undisturbed. “Dugongs are usually found in shallow waters, near seagrass beds,” notes Ismail Abu Hassan, director-general of the Fisheries Department. “If there is no more seagrass left, there will be no more dugongs.”

No more dugongs in the waters of Malaysia. That’s an awful thought. But it isn’t too late yet. We can still save them.

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GPhoto of men 'surfing' on turtle at Fraser Island investigated by Queensland Parks and Wildlife

02 November 2016, ABC Online (Australia)

The photo of two men 'surfing' on a protected green turtle has been shared widely on social media. Facebook: Matt Wright

An image showing two men 'surfing' on a protected green turtle on Fraser Island is being investigated by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS).

The image was originally shared on an Instagram account, with the caption reading "Surfed a tortoise on zee weekend … gnarly duddddeeeee".

The man who owns the account has not responded to the ABC's request for comment.

A QPWS spokesperson said the maximum penalty for interfering with a natural resource such as a green turtle was $19,965.

"There is some evidence to suggest that this turtle was deceased at the time of the photo," the spokesperson said.

"QPWS are taking this matter seriously and investigating further."

Gold Coast man Matt Wright re-shared the image after it appeared in his Facebook feed on Monday night.

"It's had close to 3,000 shares, over 1,500 likes, or anger likes I guess, and it's had about 900 comments," he said.

Mr Wright, who volunteers at animal rescue service Wildcare, said he was upset by what he saw.

"I'm big into my conservation," he said.

Hundreds of comments under Mr Wright's post described the two men's actions as "idiotic", "shameful" and "disgusting".

One comment read: "You should be barred from all national and state parks. Bet your parents are proud of you."

Others reacted differently.

One person wrote: "I have been to Fraser a few times and it's not uncommon to see dead turtles washed up."

Another said: "Regardless if this animal is alive or not … this is clearly disgraceful."
Turtle nesting season underway

The QPWS investigation comes as marine turtles begin nesting along the east coast.

At Mon Repos north of Fraser Island, 387 individual loggerhead turtles visited the beach to lay and bury their eggs during nesting season last year.

Ranger-in-charge Cathy Gatley said marine turtles began coming ashore in late October and early November, with nesting season lasting until the following March.

A major obstacle for marine turtles is the amount of light there is on a beach, with darker areas serving as a more attractive option for nesting.

"We are working hard within the local community now with the Cut the Glow to Help Turtles Go campaign, as we get more development along our coast, to keep the lights down so we still have nice places for turtles," Ms Gatley said.

While light pollution deters the arrival of nesting turtles, the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection points to unsustainable hunting, boat strikes and entanglement in crab pots as more immediate threats.

Last month the QPWS began investigating the circumstances behind the discovery of multiple turtle carcasses near Elliott Heads, east of Bundaberg.

Under Commonwealth law, only traditional owners with native title rights can legally hunt marine turtles, with the maximum penalty for any breach including a $365,000 fine or two years in jail.

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