James Cook University to launch probe into dugong trade
JAMES Cook University researchers have received $170,468 in government funding to find out how much dugong meat is being illegally harvested in the Torres Strait and the reasons behind it.
The three-year project, to be carried out by scientists Natalie Stoeckl and Helene Marsh, will also investigate the best way to control a sustainable catch of the endangered animals.
Torres Strait Islanders and green groups, however, believe the money could be put to better use in supporting indigenous rangers to prevent the illegal take of the sea mammals.
Dugong numbers are on the decline along Queensland's east coast, the victims of boat strikes, being caught in fishing nets and declining water quality.
There are larger numbers of the animals north of Cooktown. However, a thriving black market trade in dugong meat has suggested the Torres Strait dugong population is over-harvested.
The researchers, in their project outline, claim 86 per cent of Islanders live on mainland Australia and there is evidence the export of dugong meat to the diaspora is substantial.
There is little known about the practice and ways to manage it sustainably.
Torres Shire Council Mayor Pedro Stephen said the funding for the project, provided by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, could be better spent at a grassroots level, such as monitoring the illegal catch of dugong and sea turtle.
"I'm actually not a great supporter of collecting data just for the sake of collecting data and nothing's happening on the ground," he said.
He said he wasn't aware if the illegal take of the animals was rife in the region.
WWF Australia has welcomed the new JCU research project although a spokesman said there should be more federal support for indigenous rangers to carry out the monitoring required to stop the illegal harvest of dugongs.