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Dugong conservation project advances

DOHA • The Supreme Council for Environment and Natural Reserves (SCENR) has successfully completed the first phase of its National Dugong Conservation Initiative.

The SCENR undertook the five-month long research and conservation planning of this endangered species with the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) and a team of international scientists from Five Oceans Environmental Services LLC.

The first phase of the project was sponsored by Dolphin Energy, which also hosted a workshop last week to discuss the results of the work and plans for the continuation of the initiative into Phase Two.

Ghanem Abdullah, Director of Wildlife department, SCENR, said the team has successfully achieved its aims of collecting and analyzing scientific information on dugongs and their habitat for the purpose of developing conservation plans to protect the dugong, a species vulnerable to extinction. The study, led by the Technical Affairs and Wildlife Department of SCENR, used a variety of modern scientific techniques to study the dugong.

With the support of QEAF helicopters, scientists investigated the population of dugongs in Qatar using aerial survey techniques, combined with ground surveys to study dugongs washed ashore on beaches. The interviews with fishermen also revealed that several dugongs had died due to unscientific fishing practices, he said.

The experts collected and analyzed the whole information by using Geographic Information System (GIS) with the help of a specially dedicated powerful computer-based system that is used to help prepare plans for the conservation and management of dugongs and their habitats.

Ghanem Abdullah said the Phase Two will also see the launch of more detailed research, including use of the latest satellite tracking technology to determine the movements of dugongs and identify critical feeding, breeding and migratory areas. “Analysis of dugong DNA will also help to gain an understanding of the complex social structure of dugongs and the biodiversity value of the structure through determination of their relationship to dugongs elsewhere in the world,” he said.

Phase Two of the programme will be run from the office of SCENR, which will arrange special staffing and equipment.

The assistance of international dugong experts will also continue into Phase Two, particularly for the implementation of scientific research and the development of detailed conservation plans. The experts will also provide additional training to SCENR staff in Qatar.