Dugong deaths in Sri Lanka lend urgency to calls for stronger protections

July 13, 2021


A dugong body found in March, a possible victim of blast fishing. Image courtesy of Ranil P. Nanayakkara.

In a recent article in Mongabay environmental journalist Malika Rodrigo called attention to the tragic deaths of two dugongs in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka where dugongs are considered critically endangered, the loss of even two is a huge loss. Unfortunately, the causes of these deaths are consistent with known threats to dugongs, including net entanglement and “blast fishing” or the use of dynamite to indiscriminately kill and collect whatever marine life is unfortunate enough to be in the area at the time of the explosion.

These threats were meant to be reduced through efforts to establish and regulate marine protected areas in locations where dugongs were known to be present. Unfortunately, as reported in the article, the protected areas are not well monitored and local communities are not directly benefiting from them.

Commenting on these deaths, Maya Todorova, project manager for the Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project, said:

The Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project and the partnership it represented laid the foundations of the conservation of dugongs and their seagrass habitats in Sri Lanka. This project was a huge undertaking, but it was only the beginning. All we need is to ensure that dugongs and conservation at large are on the list of political priorities, so that they receive both expert and financial support. Apparently, this needs to happen sooner rather than later and we need to put more pressure on the responsible institutions or we risk losing the dugong in Sri Lanka.