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Thulasiraman and his brother Hariharasudhan had only seen pictures of the dugong, or sea cow, until two of these sea mammals got entangled in their net as they were fishing off the coast of Ramanathapuram earlier this year. But thanks to an awareness camp conducted for fishermen on how to treat such rare marine animals, the brothers cut their net to release the trapped young dugongs.

While Hariharasuthan was busy releasing the dugongs, his elder brother Thulasiraman recorded the action on his mobile phone. They later submitted the video of the incident to the Wildlife Institute of India’s (WII) CAMPA Dugong Recovery Program team.

The duo’s prompt action to save the rare mammals, despite the loss of their valuable net, evoked a tremendous response from the wildlife authorities. The WII CAMPA Dugong Recovery program along with the Forest Department awarded a cash prize of Rs. 10,000 each, to the brothers on August 15, Independence Day.

“I had to first remove the nylon traps one after the other. It was difficult to cut the net as the animals were trying to escape. It took some time and we recorded the action so that it will be useful for other fishermen when it comes to rescuing such rare sea mammals during fishing,” said Mr. Hariharasuthan. “We lost our net, but we are happy that we could release them from the deadly traps back to the sea,” he added.

(Click here to see the video)

While Hariharasudhan is new to deep sea fishing, Thulasiraman is a veteran with more than 12 years of experience. “Even though we fishermen get surprise catches, this is the first time two dugongs got entangled in our net. We got tense in the beginning, but soon we realised that they were dugong calves. It was a great experience,” he said, recalling their rescue effort.

Thanks to an awareness camp conducted for fishermen on how to treat such rare marine animals, the brothers cut their net to release the trapped young dugongs

India is one of over 40 countries that is home to the dugongs. The Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay waters of Tamil Nadu host the largest population of dugongs in the country. Dugongs are herbivores and an adult feeds on 30-40 kilograms of seagrass per day. The mammals are protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, and are a Schedule I species, considered ‘Vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The WII Campa Dugong Recovery program is a conservation project for dugongs and their source of food, seagrass. The team is working on the research and conservation aspects of this mammal and its habitat in the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar, Gulf of Kachchh in Gujarat and the Andaman-Nicobar Islands under the guidance of Dr. J.A. Johnson and Dr. Nehru Prabakaran.

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“If a dugong gets entangled in your net, kindly release the dugong with a video recording of the rescue and location. The WII team and the Forest Department will felicitate the fisher and give a cash prize of Rs 10,000,” Chinmaya Ghanekar, a member of the rescue team of WII, tells fishermen.

Dugong feeding

Dugongs grow up to three metres in length and can weigh over 400 kilograms. They have a life span of about 70 years. A female gives birth to one calf at a time after a gestation of almost a year. A new born calf lives with its mother for a year or two. Males compete to attract a mate, a behaviour known as lekking.

“If a dugong gets entangled in your net, kindly release the dugong with a video recording of the rescue and location. The WII team and the Forest Department will felicitate the fisher and give a cash prize of Rs 10,000,” Chinmaya Ghanekar, a member of the rescue team of WII, tells fishermen

“Dugongs live in waters highly favoured as fishing grounds by both largescale, as well as, traditional fishers. However, modern destructive fishing methods like demersal drag netting, beach seines and illegal pair-trawling, and trawling too close to the shore pose serious threats to the seagrass ecosystem and dugongs. Dugongs succumb to entanglement in fishing nets and strikes by boats and propellers. Dugongs are also poached for their meat,” said a release from the WII.

As per the announcement of the Forest Minister on September 3, 2021, work on a Dugong Conservation Reserve is in progress. The 448 sq. km area borders a coastline of 48 km, covering coastal villages of Thanjavur and Pudukottai. “The reserve extends ten km from the coast. The idea behind the reserve is to strictly enforce existing fishing regulations to protect the seagrass and dugongs of this area. The coastal community is held responsible for protecting this pristine dugong habitat, including the mangroves of the region. Since the inception of the project, nine dugongs have been rescued from this coastline alone,” the Department said.


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