“Hue-manatee” hasn’t been kind to dugongs, which are now listed as vulnerable to extinction at a global scale by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
But now a new study of their movements around Pacific coral lagoons offers new hope for conservation initiatives for both them and the seagrass habitats they graze in.
Dugongs are the world’s only herbivorous marine mammal and keep crucial ocean ecosystems in balance for a raft of other sea life.
However, little is known about how they use coral reef lagoons.
Dr Christophe Cleguer from Murdoch University’s Harry Butler Institute, who was studying at James Cook University at the time, led a team of researchers who caught and tagged a group of dugongs in some of New Caledonia’s lagoons so the animals could be tracked using GPS technology.
Dr Cleguer said it was the first study to document how dugongs use coral reef lagoon environments in the region.
“Dugongs are known to be excellent bio-indicators of seagrasses, which are among the most valuable ecosystems on earth and of fundamental importance to human life,” Dr Cleguer said.
“The data we have collected on the dugongs use of space can now be used to direct in-water sampling to assess habitats and verify the presence of critical seagrass meadows,” he said.
“Our findings are now in the hands of the resource managers in New Caledonia to help inform conservation and management initiatives locally as well as for other countries within the dugong’s range.”
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