General Studies IIIEnvironment and Ecology

Dugong Conservation Reserve


Recently, the Tamil Nadu government has decided to go ahead with the establishment of India’s first conservation reserve for the Dugong in Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay.

About Dugong : The sea cow

  • Dugong or the sea cow is the State animal of Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
  • This endangered marine species survive on seagrass and other aquatic vegetation found in the area.
  • It is the only herbivorous mammal that is strictly marine and is the only extant species in the family Dugongidae.
  • Dugongs are usually about three-meter long and weigh about 400 kg.
  • Dugongs have an expanded head and trunk-like upper lip.
  • Elephants are considered to be their closest relatives. However, unlike dolphins and other cetaceans, sea cows have two nostrils and no dorsal fin.

Their habitat

  • Distributed in shallow tropical waters in the Indo-Pacific region, in India, they are found in the Gulf of Kutch, Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
  • Dugongs are long-living animals, that have a low reproductive rate, long generation time, and high investment in each offspring.
  • The female dugongs do not bear their first calf until they are at least 10 and up to 17 years old.
  • A dugong population is unlikely to increase more than 5% per year. They take a long time to recover due to the slow breeding rate.

Causes of extinction

  • Having being declared vulnerable, the marine animal calls for conserving efforts.
  • Studies have suggested the reasons for the extinction of the animal such as slow breeding rate, fishing, and the loss of habitat.
  • They are also known to suffer due to accidental entanglement and drowning in gill-nets.

Conservation Status:

  • IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable
    • Wild (Life) Protection Act, 1972: Schedule I
    • CITES: Appendix I


  • Dugongs graze on seagrass and the loss of seagrass beds due to ocean floor trawling is one of the most important factors behind decreasing dugong populations in many parts of the world.
  • Trawling is a method of fishing that involves pulling a fishing net through the water behind one or more boats.
  • It is harmful to the environment because it damages the seafloor, coral reefs and other marine animals.
  • Human activities such as the destruction and modification of habitat, pollution, rampant illegal fishing activities, vessel strikes, unsustainable hunting or poaching and unplanned tourism are the main threats to dugongs.
  • Dugong meat is consumed under the wrong impression that it cools down human body temperature.

Steps Taken for Conservation:

  • In February 2020, India hosted the 13th Conference of Parties (CoP) of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), an environmental treaty under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
  • The Government of India has been a signatory to the CMS since 1983.
  • India has signed non-legally binding Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) with CMS on the conservation and management of Siberian Cranes (1998), Marine Turtles (2007), Dugongs (2008) and Raptors (2016).
  • The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change constituted a ‘Task Force for Conservation of Dugongs’ to look into issues related to conservation of dugongs and implementation of the ‘UNEP/CMS Dugong MoU’ in India.
  • It also facilitates India to act as the leading nation in the South Asia Sub-region with respect to dugong conservation.

Dugong Conservation Reserve

  • The reserve will spread over an area of 500 km in Palk Bay on the southeast coast of Tamil Nadu.
  • Palk Bay is a semi-enclosed shallow water body with a water depth maximum of 13 meters.
  • Located between India and Sri Lanka along the Tamil Nadu coast, the dugong is a flagship species in the region.

What are Conservation Reserves?

  • Conservation reserves and community reserves are terms denoting protected areas of the country which typically act as buffer zones to or connectors and migration corridors between established national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved and protected forests.
  • Such areas are designated as conservation areas if they are uninhabited and completely owned by the Government of India but used for subsistence by communities and community areas if part of the lands are privately owned.
  • These protected area categories were first introduced in the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act of 2002 − the amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
  • These categories were added because of reduced protection in and around existing or proposed protected areas due to private ownership of land and land use.

Source: Down To Earth

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