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Saudi Arabia to support conservation of sea cows

Kingdom becomes 26th signatory to UN treaty on conservation of dugongs

Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Saudi Arabia has confirmed its support for the protection of dugongs and their vital seagrass habitats by becoming the 26th Signatory State to the UNEP/CMS Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and their Habitats throughout their Range (Dugong MoU).

The Dugong MoU operates under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS). The Dugong MOU is supported by a Secretariat, funded and hosted by the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi on behalf of the Government of the United Arab Emirates since 2009.

The Dugong MoU was signed by Mohammad Saud Sulayem, Adviser on International Cooperation at the Saudi Wildlife Authority (SWA), on behalf of Prince Bandar Bin Saud Bin Mohammad Al Saud, President of SWA, at a signing ceremony held in the UNEP/CMS Office - Abu Dhabi.

Dugongs, commonly known as ‘sea cows’, belong to an order of marine mammals called Sirenia. These large but elusive animals are herbivores, feeding predominantly on seagrass, and play a significant ecological role in the functioning of coastal ecosystems. Dugongs are found in warm coastal waters of at least 40 countries in the Indo-Pacific, and the coastal waters of Saudi Arabia are host to significant dugong populations.

On the Red Sea coast, important habitats exist around the Sharm Munaibira area of Al Wajh, Qishran Island and Al Lith, and from Jizan to beyond the Yemeni border. Dugongs are also found on the eastern coastline of Saudi Arabia.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species lists dugongs as ‘vulnerable’, meaning they face a high risk of extinction in the medium-term future. Dugongs are threatened by a range of harmful impacts, including drowning following incidental capture in fishing nets, loss or degradation of habitat through coastal development and strikes by vessels. As dugongs are slow to develop and reproduce infrequently, even small losses can have serious consequences to a population.

Due to the size of the dugong’s range, its transboundary movements and the trend of declining populations, a coordinated international effort is critical if conservation of this threatened marine mammal is to be effective.