Arabian Gulf Dugong Conservation: Biodiversity & Species Conservation Workshop

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By Philippa Loates, CMS – Abu Dhabi Office

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) Office – Abu Dhabi, in partnership with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), recently concluded a three-day workshop on dugong and science and management in the Arabian Gulf region. 

The workshop, held from the 2nd to 4th May 2023 in Abu Dhabi, brought together researchers from the GCC region, as well as international experts, to discuss the status of the Arabian Gulf dugong population, to develop strategies for regional collaboration and to share knowledge on new technology and research methodologies.

The Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and their Habitats throughout their Range (the CMS Dugong MoU) is an international agreement that aims to promote internationally coordinated actions to ensure the long-term survival of dugongs and their seagrass habitats throughout their extensive range. The CMS Dugong MoU entered into effect on 31 October 2007 in Abu Dhabi and has since been signed by 27 countries.

In 2009, CMS and EAD entered a partnership that established a CMS Office – Abu Dhabi, to host the CMS Dugong MOU Secretariat and the CMS Raptors MOU Secretariat. The partnership between CMS and the Government of the UAE has remained in place and generated significant achievements for international cooperation on migratory species conservation.

The Secretary General of EAD, H.E. Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, opened the workshop, followed by a welcome address by Rouba Abou-Atieh, Executive Coordinator for CMS Office – Abu Dhabi. 

The dugong population in the Arabian Gulf is the second largest in the world after Australia with an overall population of 7,300 – 7,500 individuals, occurring primarily around the Marawah and Al Yasat protected areas (UAE), the Hawar Islands (Bahrain) and NW Qatar, and the shallow waters between Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Participants from these range states presented on the status of dugong populations within their territories, highlighting the current population estimates, major threats, and current monitoring programmes. 

These national presentations highlighted the importance of strengthening regional collaboration among the dugong range states of the Arabian Gulf to gather a clearer understanding of movement patterns and behaviours, and how to coordinate dugong and seagrass research and conservation throughout the Arabian Gulf.  

Professor Helene Marsh, the world’s premier authority on the ecology and conservation biology of dugongs, attended the workshop to provide expert advice and stressed that: “In terms of research and science, the Arabian Gulf has a unique opportunity to set an example of how important and effective regional cooperation can be.” 

In response to this, the CMS Dugong MOU will work on establishing a Technical Working Group to explore the development of standardised survey methodologies that can be deployed in a coordinated effort across the region. 

The workshop was also an opportunity to present the story of Malqout, a dugong calf rescued in in 2019 from the Marawah Marine Reserve in Abu Dhabi. Malqout was found stranded and separated from his mother, malnourished, and dehydrated. Worldwide Zoo Consultants gave a detailed presentation on the intensive round-the-clock care provided to Malqout. Following an increase in cases of dugong strandings in 2021-2022, this was a particularly relevant and useful discussion for the workshop participants and provided learnings for the entire region. 

The workshop concluded with a trip to SeaWorld Abu Dhabi to observe a dugong necropsy, providing a unique capacity building opportunity. 

The workshop is the first gathering of dugong experts dedicated to the Arabian Gulf population. It provided a valuable opportunity for stakeholders and experts from across the region to collectively discuss the challenges facing dugongs and their habitat, and to agree on suitable steps for collaborative efforts towards the protection and conservation of this unique species. 

The workshop was funded with generous support from the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi. 

We believe in gathering people together to discuss and share learnings on effects to affect climate change, Therefore, we are excited to be participating in  the MENA Oceans Summit on 8th – 9th June 2023. 

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