Dugongs in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf

Anthony Preen, Helene Marsh, and George E. Heinsohn
Recommendations for the Conservation and Management of Dugong
in the Arabian Region
MEPA, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1989.

Reviewed by Daniel Martin Varisco

Yemen Update 33(1993):27

One of the more interesting mammalian residents of the Red Sea is the dugong (Dugong dugon), the only living herbivorous mammal that is strictly marine. The dugong, as is true of the manatees as well, is listed as an endangered species by IUCN. The most closely related species, Steller's sea cow, was sent over the brink into extinction by humans in the late18th century. Unfortunately for the dugong, they breed very slowly(no more than 5 % growth per year under ideal conditions) and so it is difficult to build up the species.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, through its Meteorology and Environmental Protection Administration (MEPA), has taken a lead role in planning for preservation of dugongs in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. A set of recommendations was compiled by Anthrony Preen, Helene Marsh, and George E. Heinsohn in 1989(Recommendations for the Conservation and Management of Dugong in the Arabian Region, MEPA, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia). There are several threats to dugong populations. Most human-induced mortalities stem from accidental capture in gill nets set to catch mackeral; these are often killed or sold by the fishermen. As it is somewhat similar to beef, it used to be served in restaurants as a cheap substitute. There is also the ever-present threat of environmental disaster due to an oil spillage. The MEPA volume contains 28 formal recommendations, a number of which are equally relevant to Yemen's portion of the Red Sea. The major components in the proposed regional dugong management program include:

  • establishing dugongs as protected species and banning the killing of dugongs and sale of their meat,
  • establishing a series of protected areas for dugongs in the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea,
  • preparing oil spill contingency plans for major dugong habitats in the Arabian Gulf,
  • giving a high level of protection to sea grass beds,
  • developing a public education program focusing on dugong conservation,
  • developing a research and monitoring program for dugongs.

For more information, contact Abdulrahman H. Komas, EPGD General Manager, MEPA, POB 1358, Jeddah 21431, Saudi Arabia.

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