ABU DHABI – A team of field scientists from the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) this month came across two dugongs trapped in an abandoned drift Gillnet (Al Hayali), close to Abu Al Abyad Island.
Dugong are extremely vulnerable in these waters due to to human threats. It is listed as ‘Vulnerable to Extinction’ internationally and is protected locally under UAE Federal Law No. 23 (By-Laws 2001).
The law aims to fully protect dugongs and other marine wildlife, including sea turtles, from any commercial and recreational utilization of species within its range in UAE waters.
Gillnets, particularly drift gillnets locally known as Al Hayali, constitute one of the major threats to the Dugong populations within the UAE and globally.
Studies conducted by EAD experts have indicated that the two dugongs suffocated to death in gill-nets. Drift nets (Al Hayali) and Encircling gill nets ( Al Halaq) are banned by Law in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, however, abandoned nets and illegal use of banned nets continue to be a major cause of dugong mortality in the area.
Moreover, Dugongs are at risk from boat strikes and disturbances in areas, where high boating traffic coincides with dugong habitat.
Dugongs are also indirectly at risk due to the destruction of their main habitat, the seagrass.
Seagrass which occur in coastal and shallow water areas and require light for their growth, are particularly vulnerable from increasing developmental activities along the coast such as dredging, land filling, coastal clearing and land reclamation as well as eutrophication (an increase in chemical nutrients) from sewage and other effluents.
Many efforts towards their protection have been made, including funding from TOTAL ABU AL BUKHOOSH, towards a four year study focused on obtaining information on the abundance, distribution and the conservation status of dugongs in UAE.