Dugongs recovering well after flood crisis

By AAP and AG staff 2 June 2011
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Despite being the worst natural disaster in Queensland history. the recent floods have left dugongs relatively unscathed.

BRISBANE’S SUMMER OF FLOODS appears to have left Moreton Bay’s dugong population largely unscathed.

Fears had been held for them after tonnes of silt and other rubbish washed down the Brisbane River and into the bay during January’s floods, threatening the sea grass the dugong relies on to survive.

Biologists from the University of Queensland recently teamed up with Sea World, Sydney Aquarium and Taronga Western Plains Zoo to assess the health and reproductive status of wild dugongs in Moreton Bay.

The team has been taking samples of the population, which involved lifting wild dugongs out of the water and putting them on board Sea World’s research vessel to take a comprehensive series of blood and other tissue samples. The samples are used to measure clinical health parameters and levels of pollutants, including heavy metals.

Efforts to save dugongs from floods harm

Sea World director of marine science Trevor Long says the work they have done so far this week has been very encouraging. The team had pulled five animals on board on Wednesday, among them two pregnant females and one of the biggest dugongs they had ever pulled out of Moreton Bay, he says.

Most of the animals have been in very good condition, with only about two in what Trevor called “slightly poor condition” – something he says is good news.

“There was a lot of concern, even among ourselves, about what would be the outcome for this population, considering the amount of silt that came out of the Brisbane River,” he says. “It was a concern when we had the floods because we had floods in 1991 in Hervey Bay and we lost a lot of animals there, probably over half of the population.”

The Hervey Bay dugong population has still not recovered, and Trevor and the team will be heading there next week to see if there are any signs of improvement. But, he says, the number of pregnant dugongs in Moreton Bay has been encouraging because they only have babies once every three to four years and their calves stay with them for about 18 months to two years.

Dugong population vulnerable in Moreton Bay

The next step is to improve the education and policing of laws that protect the dugongs in Moreton Bay, Trevor says. The population is still very vulnerable in Moreton Bay with the growth of the Brisbane port and the high number of people using the waters of the bay.

“We’ve raised a lot of awareness and from that marine parks have put go-slow zones in to protect the animals from boat strike,” he says. But some boaties still go through those zones flat out even though they know why the go-slow law is there, he adds. “It’s one thing to create a law, it’s another to police it.”


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