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Dugongs

Dugongs (or ‘sea cow’) are large herbivorous marine mammals that are found in tropical and subtropical waters throughout the Indo-Pacific. Moreton Bay is the only place in the world where dugongs live so close to a major city. They mostly occur around large banks in eastern Moreton Bay in herds of 10 - 300 individuals.

Moreton Bay is the only place in the world where dugongs live so close to a major city.These shy and fascinating animals are dependant on the shallow and deepwater seagrass beds within the Park and eat over 30kg of seagrass each every day! They are seagrass specialists and only feed on a few tropical seagrass species in any part of their range.

Dugongs have sleek, solid bodies and as adults can be up to 3 metres in length and weigh up to 600 kg. They are long-lived mammals (around 70 years) and it takes dugongs 10 - 17 years to reach breeding maturity.

Dugongs mate and give birth to only one calf every 5 - 7 years. The calf will stay suckling from its mother for 1-2 years. Due to this low breeding rate, dugongs are very susceptible to decline from various threats.

Threats

Dugongs are currently listed as vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN (2001). Throughout their range, there have been significant declines in populations over the past century. Dugongs in Moreton Bay were harvested for their blubber from the mid 19th century which caused their population to dwindle. They are now protected in Australia and populations have recovered to around 1000 individuals in Moreton Bay. Dugongs of the Bay still face a myriad of threats including boat strike, loss of seagrass habitat, and entanglement in fishing gear and marine debris.

Pollution, turbid waters and boat traffic have reduced the distribution of seagrass meadows, the primary food source of dugongs, in Moreton Bay. Unexpected flooding events like those that occurred in 2011 place significantly more stress on dugongs as tonnes of sediment, contaminants and debris flush into the Bay.

South-east Queensland’s rapidly expanding population places increasing pressure on Moreton Bay through more pollution, more boat traffic and more coastal development.

Solutions

  • Use propeller guards on your boat to avoid striking dugongs.
  • Look out for dugongs and motor carefully to avoid boat strikes. Get the Moreton Bay Marine Park User Guide and know where the 'go slow' zones are and obey the rules.
  • If out fishing make sure you don’t leave any gear behind.
  • Dispose of rubbish and chemicals properly! What we put into our waterways ends up in Moreton Bay and can directly impact dugongs.

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