| Dugongs are disappearing at alarming rates along the Queensland coastline. Mortality and stranding rates have dramatically increased in recent years. A recent study reported 72 deaths in 1999. Strandings have increased by 30 per cent during 2000. This situation can be attributed to a number of factors, including:
- Dugongs becoming entangled in fishing nets set across estuaries and in nets used by trawlers
- Injury from propellers of small boats
- Indigenous people hunting dugongs along the Queensland coast
- Climate change
- Land-based practices resulting in run-off of sediment into coastal waters.
A further increase in mortalities is expected in coming months. The record flooding of the Mary River in 1999 caused a large local die-off of seagrass (dugongs' staple food). Also, as temperatures rise in Moreton Bay [near Brisbane], a corresponding algal bloom occured in November 2000. Dugongs quickly become poisoned when they consume algae-covered seagrass. Seagrass dies off without the presence of sunlight.
Threats to dugong populations must be minimised and governments must implement more effective protective strategies. As dugongs continue to be found dead and injured inside Dugong Protection Zones along the Queensland coastline, it seems apparent that the protection zones are not adequate. Stricter regulations concerning fishers' use of nets need to be implemented. The issuing of permits for indigenous people to hunt dugong for cultural reasons needs to be reconsidered.
Fishers argue that dugongs are not endangered, despite the listing of dugongs as endangered under the Nature Conservation Act. They also deny that dugongs become entangled in their nets, apart from the occasional accident. Recreational and commercial fishers lay the blame on each other for the accidents that do occur.
Indigenous people argue that hunting dugong is culturally significant and are determined to continue hunting small numbers of endangered species, as is their right under a recent High Court ruling.
WPSQ has three branches conducting Dugong Watch - Bayside Branch - monitoring Moreton Bay; Proserpine/Whitsunday - covering the Whitsundays; and Hervey Bay - watching Sandy Straits.