The Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and their Habitats throughout their Range (Dugong MoU) aims to promote internationally coordinated actions to ensure the long-term survival of dugongs and their seagrass habitats throughout their extensive range. The MoU entered into effect on 31 October 2007 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The Dugong MoU Secretariat is based alongside the Raptors MoU Coordinating Unit at the CMS Office – Abu Dhabi.
Two meetings of the CMS Conference of the Parties called for the development of an appropriate instrument to conserve the dugong under CMS auspices: the initiative was led by the Governments of Australia and Thailand in close coordination with the CMS Secretariat. Two intergovernmental meetings on Dugong Conservation and Management were held in Bangkok, Thailand (August 2005, May 2006) under the auspices of CMS. The Second Meeting (Bangkok, May 2006) strongly endorsed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and associated Conservation and Management Plan (CMP). A third meeting, held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on 28-31 October 2007, concluded the negotiations and agreed on the final text of the Dugong MoU.
The dugong (Dugong dugon), or sea cow, is the only herbivorous marine mammal, and the only member of the family Dugongidae. Throughout its range which extends across over 40 countries throughout tropical and subtropical coastal waters from East Africa to the Pacific Islands, the dugong plays an important role in the culture of many coastal communities.
Dugongs grow slowly, mature late and have lengthy reproductive cycles; this makes them highly vulnerable to both chronic and acute threats. In addition, for food dugongs are dependent upon seagrasses which are restricted to shallow coastal waters where the seabed receives enough light for photosynthesis to occur. Dugongs are classified as “vulnerable to extinction” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, indicating that there is high-risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future. CMS lists the dugong in its Appendix II, which means that international cooperative activities across jurisdictional boundaries within the dugong’s migratory range are essential for the dugong’s long term survival.
Dugongs are known to migrate and disperse over vast distances; as such their survival is dependent on their conservation and management over a wide area and in a wide range of marine and coastal habitats. Throughout their range many human activities threaten dugongs due to the nature of the dugong’s life cycle and its reliance on seagrass habitats. Human activities that may threaten dugong populations directly or indirectly include destruction or modification of habitat, coastal development, pollution, fishing activities, vessel strikes, unsustainable hunting or poaching, uncontrolled mariculture and tourism.
Many of the dugong’s range countries are “Least Developed Countries” where levels of poverty are often high and rural coastal communities depend on natural resources for their survival and livelihoods. The incidental and deliberate capture of dugongs in artisanal fisheries is one of the most serious and widespread threats to the dugong’s survival. Although dugongs may be caught in a range of different net types, capture in gill nets is the most significant problem. Lack of alternative livelihood options for rural coastal communities in Least Developed Countries often results in the over-exploitation of marine resources and subsequent use of destructive harvesting practices as fishery catches diminish; ultimately damaging the marine ecosystems upon which these communities depend. The challenge of addressing threats to dugongs and seagrass ecosystems in these countries necessitates a multi-faceted, strategic approach which incorporates poverty alleviation into conservation planning. Conservation planning must therefore include objectives to develop alternative livelihoods; to improve public understanding of dugongs and their seagrass habitats; and to consult communities in the development and implementation of relevant incentives to change destructive harvesting behaviour and engage in sustainable practices.
Conservation activities implemented by Signatories to the Dugong MoU are guided by a Conservation and Management Plan (CMP) annexed to the MoU, available under Documents, CMP. With nine objectives, the CMP addresses conservation of dugongs and their seagrass habitats, awareness and education, and cross-cutting issues.
The objectives of the CMP are achieved through the Dugong, Seagrass and Coastal Communities Initiative. The Dugong, Seagrass and Coastal Communities Initiative’s objectives are:
To achieve its objectives, the Initiative aims to:
Tools and lessons learned are shared across the dugong’s global range to provide insights and guidance for the successful global conservation of dugongs and their seagrass habitats.