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.