Six dugongs have recently been found washed ashore Abu Dhabi’s coastline from Al Silaa to Ghantoot, in what is now considered to be a significant die-off of one of Abu Dhabi’s most vulnerable species.
The dugong carcasses were discovered by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) rangers who regularly patrol Abu Dhabi waters. This incident brings the total number of dead dugongs found to 20 since the beginning of the year, in comparison to 15 during the same period in 2017.
The results of the investigation and necropsy indicate that the most probable cause of death was drowning via entanglement in un-manned and abandoned drift nets - an illegal fishing practice. This irresponsible act causes dugongs to be caught and ensnared in the lengthy netting.
Abu Dhabi is home to the world’s second largest population of dugongs, with around 3,000 found in the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve. Dugongs, along with their foraging habitats and their migratory routes in the UAE, have been protected under Federal Law No. 23 and No. 24 since 1999. As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species, the UAE has an international commitment to protect local dugong species. This represents an important pillar of the legacy of the nation’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, to preserve the environment and support regional and global efforts towards the conservation of dugongs.
Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Executive Director of Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity at EAD, said: "The Agency will continue to prioritise the protection of dugong habitats and ensure that enforcement of the laws continues to be applied strictly, in partnership with the Critical Infrastructure & Coastal Protection Authority (CICPA). We strongly urge all fishermen to cast their nets mindfully, prudently and responsibly and fish in a sustainable manner – in line with our local and federal laws."
The Agency has regularly reiterated the issue of illegal fishing practices with the local fishing community, applying pressure on them to discontinue them and to report the locations of any abandoned fishing nets. EAD, with the support of CICPA, has also ramped up its random inspections to mitigate the detrimental impacts of illegal fishing practices. All violators found applying illegal fishing practices will be stiffly penalised. First-time offenders may receive fines of up to AED 50,000 and/or an imprisonment term of not less than three months, while second-time offenders may receive fines of up to AED 100,000 and/or an imprisonment term of not less than one year. In 2018, EAD has imposed over 40 fines for illegal fishing practices following violations found during inspections.
In collaboration with Total and Total ABK, EAD has been studying and monitoring the local dugong population since 1999. These studies, which include satellite-tagging the dugongs to analyse their migration patterns, have given EAD a better understanding of dugong behaviour and the threats to their population.
Since the beginning of the programme, EAD has investigated 165 dugong mortalities. The most common cause of death by far, has been suffocation from entanglement in abandoned fishing nets. Other causes of death have included habitat loss, marine pollution and collisions with speeding boats, with most deaths reported during the winter season coinciding with increased fishing activity.