Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and Zayed University Students Work Together to Raise Global Awareness about Dugong and Seagrass Conservation
May 21, 2016
At an event hosted by Zayed University on International Day for Biological Diversity, the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund publicly announced a $5.8m Global Environment Facility (GEF) grant to save the endangered dugong and its seagrass ecosystems across the Indian Ocean and into the South Pacific. Zayed University students, in partnership with students from 16 international universities, are helping the Fund raise awareness of the importance of dugong and seagrass conservation.
The presence of dugong and seagrass in a marine ecosystem is a good indication that the ecosystem is healthy
“The presence of dugong and seagrass in a marine ecosystem is a good indication that the ecosystem is healthy,” said Her Excellency Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Managing Director of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund. “Protecting these species and their environment is good for local communities because a healthy marine environment provides plentiful food, protects coasts from storm erosion and ensures clean sea water,” continued Her Excellency.
The Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project, funded by the GEF and managed by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund (the MBZ Fund), encompasses eight countries across the Indian Ocean and into the South Pacific including Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mozambique, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu. The MBZ Fund works with partners in these countries to implement 38 locally-managed conservation projects. These conservation partnerships are helping to save dugong and seagrass using science and research techniques, awareness raising programmes, conservation policy development, and providing incentives for communities to protect the species.
As part of a globally connected university-level class, Zayed University students together with students from 16 universities in countries such as the United States, Russia, Germany, Malaysia, Australia, and Chile, have joined together here in Abu Dhabi to advise the MBZ Fund on digital communications, marketing and public relations for the project. The students’ efforts are geared toward engaging the public through social media and marketing strategies across the world, including here in Abu Dhabi.
The student-work will help the MBZ Fund launch a global campaign to raise awareness of dugong and seagrass and to help conserve them throughout their range. Seagrass ecosystems are regarded as important as coral reef systems because they are critical to the success of coastal fisheries. Seagrass also play an important role in reducing the effects of climate change, yet they are under pressure from human activities. Dugongs are the world’s only vegetarian marine mammal and are reliant on seagrasses for food. Seagrass ecosystems with dugongs are an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. When seagrass are healthy they play an important role in securing dietary needs of coastal communities and millions of consumers of fish and seafood globally. They also protect coasts from the impacts of storms, improve the quality of marine water and help prevent climate change acceleration.
However, dugong and seagrass are under threat. The dugong is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/6909/0) as ‘Vulnerable’ to extinction due to vessel strikes, illegal hunting and destructive fishing practices (cyanide, dynamite, netting), as well as habitat destruction. Seagrass has been disappearing at a rate of 110 km2 per year since 1980. This loss is primarily caused by sedimentation, poorly planned coastal development, inappropriate land use and destructive fishing practices. Seagrass meadows, despite their importance, exist with minimal environmental protection.
“The Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project, executed by the MBZ Fund, represents an unprecedented global investment in the conservation of these endangered species and contributes to Abu Dhabi’s already impressive track record of supporting environmental conservation efforts worldwide,” said Her Excellency Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Managing Director of the MBZ Fund. “Working with Zayed University students and their counterparts from different universities across the world, gives the Fund the opportunity to tap into the insights of a digitally connected and environmentally aware generation. We are thrilled that these students are helping us make a difference in the world,” said Her Excellency Mrs. Al Mubarak.
The MBZ Fund also unveiled its new dugong-focused website to help the public learn more about the species. The website www.dugongconservation.org features dugong and seagrass through a combination of information, photos, videos, and social media activities to provide a platform from which the public can become involved in the conservation of these important species. The Fund encourages the public to visit the site and participate in the online conversation to help conserve these amazing species.