x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Dugong off the menu

The dugong, the sea's only vegetarian mammal, needs all the help it can get to keep population numbers up. Abu Dhabi is set to deliver.

Dugongs are slow, produce few offspring and, according to a report in The National this week, taste delicious. It would seem that Mother Nature has dealt these gentle, curious creatures a bad hand indeed. The sea's only vegetarian mammal needs all the help it can get.

And it has found some in Abu Dhabi. As The National reported this week, a UN-sponsored programme, the Dugong, Seagrass and Coastal Communities Initiative, supported by the capital, hopes to improve the livelihood of the coastal communities the dugong frequent and, in the process, stave off its extinction.

Dugong numbers are in steep decline across their range, and some island nations have already hunted populations to elimination. With a relatively stable population of about 3,000, Abu Dhabi is well positioned to lead the search for solutions. One idea is to provide poorer communities in East Africa and the Western Pacific Island with loans to push fishermen towards more sustainable fisheries. Dugong-free seafood labels are another idea.

It's encouraging that scientists are making the link between wildlife protection and the economic realities of poverty. But it will matter only if poor fishermen also realise the benefits of keeping dugongs alive.