Last January 9, the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DNER) had rescued a neonate, a male dugong or sea cow that got stranded in a coastal village in Quezon province. But unfortunately 10 days after being saved the baby dugong died. Binu, the dugong, was the youngest recovered sea cow by the department for the past ten years.
Dugong (Dugong dugon) or duyong, is a sea mammal that belongs to a group of animals known as Sirenians. They are called sirenians because in the olden days, sailors mistook these animals for mermaids or ‘sirena.’ Like whales and dolphins, they have to surface from the water in order to breathe air. And like any other mammal, they feed their infants with their milk. They are classified as grazers and only eat sea grasses. Dugongs, the only survivor of Family Dugongidae, are can be found along the coast of 42 countries within the warm and shallow waters of the Indian and West Pacific Oceans. Also, they live in the northern waters of Australia then extend to coast of Africa and Arabian regions. Unluckily, these lovely sea mammals are vulnerable to extinction due to man’s continued hunting and abuse to marine environment. Across the globe, hundreds are being rescued but too few are able to survive. In line with this, various projects and programs are being implemented worldwide. And here in the Philippines, the DENR and BMB lead the fight to conserve and protect these marine animals.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) classified dugongs as vulnerable to extinction. Dugongs are being hunted for its meat and oil. Also, most of duyongs are being hurt by boats and drowned by getting trapped in fishing nets. The pollution of different bodies of water also affects the life of the sea cow such as oil spills, chemicals from explosives used in illegal fishing, and even noise pollution. The dugong is classified as critically endangered in DENR Administrative Order No. 2004-15 dated May 22, 2004. Many coastal communities enjoy eating their meat. Also, numerous incidents were reported as sea cows accidentally got stranded in the beach during low tide or sometimes caused by big waves, like in the case of Binu, and eventually die of exposure and dehydration. “They could not stay long underwater; they have to surface from the water to breathe. Since they could not swim fast, they are an easy target of poachers who hunt them with nets, dynamite, or spear guns,” BMBDir. Ma. Theresa Mundita- Lim stressed.
Many dugongs were saved from being trapped, stranded, and some from illegal trades. But dugongs are really sensitive and only few were able to survive. Sea cows, most especially the neonates, are very critical particularly on its first six weeks. Also, they depend on sea grasses as their primary source of energy. “Yung dugong kasi they stay in water in mga 18 months… So posible lang sya mabuhay kung kumakain sya ng sea grass.” Dr. Arnel Andrew Yaptinchai, President of Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, said. The rescued dugongs are being fed by a milk formula as an alternative to the milk of an old dugong. But young sea cows are really sensitive in its six months of salvation and rehabilitation. Most of them die before they reach the six-week monitoring before they can be brought back again to water where they can eat sea grasses. “Globally kasi, marami ring reports about neonates, etong mga babies (dugong) na narehabilitate, unfortunately lahat sila namatay from six months to one year. So yung chances talaga (of survival) is really low,” Dr. Yaptanchai added.
Approved in 2001, the Republic Act No. 9147 or the Wildlife Resources and Protection Act penalizes any person who kills, trades, transports or possesses any threatened species, such as dugong, and their by-products or derivatives. It is punishable with imprisonment from 6-12 years and/or a fine from Php100 000.00 to Php1M. To date, different studies on the dugong and efforts to arrest the decline of its population are started by the Biodiversity Management Bureau with support from conservation partners. Director Lim also urges the coastal communities to immediately report dugong stranding to the nearest DENR office. Since 1992, there were 36 successful dugong releases, returned to water alive out of 55 reported captures in the country.
We need to protect different wildlife species as these creatures play an important role in our environment. We should coordinate to our government officials in conserving our natural resources like taking good care of the extinct dugong. Let’s play our part before these sea mammals are can be found only in tales and photographs.
DISCLAIMER: The article was written by the author as a project article for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR.) For more related articles, visit their website at denr.gov.ph.