WHERE: Gulf of Munnar, Andamans
STATUS: Schedule I/Critically Endangered
GOOD TO KNOW: The dugong is more closely related to elephants than to other marine animals
THE DUGONG IS the only marine herbivore, and is of the order Sirenian, named after the Sirens of ancient Greek mythology. Once found in plenty, they have been hunted to near extinction for their meat, oil and bones. Today, there are only about 500 dugongs surviving in fragmented populations mainly in the Gulf of Kutch, Gulf of Munnar and near the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. They are increasingly threatened by hunting, accidental trapping in gill nets and mega projects along the coast such as the Sethusamudram project in the Gulf of Munnar, which will disrupt the biosphere area of sea grass that the dugongs feed on.
If we are to save them, we must have at least a minimal protection system in place, with well-trained and equipped marine rangers and patrol boats. We also need to involve fishermen in conservation work.