Dugong heaven: at last, a sanctuary to live, play and breed
THE world's largest population of dugongs may soon be able to live a little bit longer as a new survey could see a 2744km sanctuary extended.
James Cook University has received more than $100,000 in federal funding to survey the waters of the Torres Strait to help authorities evaluate the potential of extending the boundaries of the 25-year-old dugong sanctuary.
Dugong hunting is banned in a large area of western Torres Strait, which was set aside as a 2744km sanctuary in 1985.
Scientists from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences will conduct an aerial survey of the area to count dugong numbers and establish their range, with locals and latest data suggesting the population is over-harvested. JCU researcher Mark Hamann said aerial surveys had been carried out for several years.
"The survey will continue the work of estimating abundance and distribution of dugongs in the Torres Strait," Dr Hamann said.
"JCU has been doing surveys out there for 20 years or so and the problem is that the numbers fluctuate quite a lot and also the dugongs move around quite a lot.
"Those two things can place errors in the estimates."
Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch said hunting of the protected species was a major issue.
"There’s a lot of hunting up there," Mr Entsch said.
"It’s not only in the Torres Strait but it’s also Papua New Guineans taking dugong as well.
"I think the status of dugong is serious right across the range."
Cairns and Far North Environment Centre co-ordinator Steve Ryan said a large dugong sanctuary could provide a solid insurance policy for the sea mammals.
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Protection: A new survey into Torres Strait dugongs could see the 2744km sanctuary extended to protect the threatened species from being over-harvested by hunters.