Rare dugong entangled in illegal fishing net rescued

Adnoc team conducts rescue operation to save distressed dugong near Bu Tinah

Staff Report
17:50 March 15, 2017

Abu Dhabi: A rare dugong has been saved from certain death due to starvation by a team from the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) and Seabed Geosolutions (SBGS).

The team saved the dugong, also known as sea cow, after it was entangled in an illegal fishing net within the Marrawah Marine Protected Area, near Bu Tinah Island, 130 kilometres off the coast of Abu Dhabi, said an Adnoc press release on Wednesday.

In a three-hour rescue operation, the joint Adnoc-SBGS team of environmental specialists set the 1.5-metre-long marine mammal free after the fishing net, with multiple attached floats, had become entangled around the dugong’s tail, preventing it from diving and grazing on sea grasses, its staple food.

When rescuers found it, the distressed dugong was exhausted due to its efforts to free itself from the net. Before the rescue operation, the Adnoc-SBGS team had been conducting wildlife line transect surveys in the area. The surveys are used to estimate wildlife distribution and abundance in a specific location and to provide real-time environmental monitoring during marine seismic operations.

Abdullah Al Marzouqi, manager, HSE Unit at Adnoc, said: “Biodiversity and ecosystem services are important for society, and we work to protect them across our operations and throughout the life of our assets.”

He said rogue-fishing gear and garbage cause deaths of countless marine mammals globally. “Throughout the surveys we conduct, a significant effort is made to recover any floating garbage and rogue fishing equipment,” he said.

To help identify the animal and monitor its movements, the environmental team marked it using non-toxic, lead-free paint marker. They were also able to record, for the first time, the sounds of a dugong in distress. It is hoped these recordings can be used to monitor dugong communications in the future to ensure Adnoc’s offshore operations are not causing trauma to any nearby dugongs.

News of the successful rescue comes as delegates from 23 of the 40 countries that are home to dugongs came together in Abu Dhabi to find better ways to protect the animals. The delegates’ meeting kicked off a week-long series of events in the UAE’s capital to focus global attention on the need to protect the dugongs and their seagrass habitats, and empower governments, researchers and local communities to work on conservation projects.

A relative of the elephant, dugongs are the only herbivorous marine mammal in the world, feeding almost solely on sea grasses. While the Arabian Gulf is believed to be home to the second largest population of dugongs on the planet, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources lists the dugong as a species vulnerable to extinction, while the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species limits bans the trade of derived products.

Despite being legally protected in many countries, the main causes of population decline among dugongs include fishing-related fatalities, habitat degradation and hunting. With its long lifespan of 70 years or more, slow rate of reproduction, and largely coastal habitat, the dugong is especially vulnerable to these threats.