sea mammals facing extinction - UN
February 14, 2002
- Dugongs - the bewhiskered sea-mammals that probably inspired
sailors‘ tales of mermaids - could become extinct in 25 years,
the United Nations said this week.
coastal development, fishermens‘ nets and trophy hunting have
caused a „catastrophic decline“ in the dugong population in
recent years, said the United Nations Environment Program,
reducing their numbers to an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 worldwide.
rarely seen by humans, the heftily sized tropical mammal - one
of the last four surviving species of sea cow - has left its
mark on popular lore by inspiring the mermaid myth.
dugong swim upright and hold their calves to their breast with a
fin while nursing. It was this sight that most likely stirred
the longings of the lovelorn sailors in lonely stretches of
a distance, in a foggy area, their imaginations probably went
wild,“ oceanographer Timothy Foresman, director of the
Environment Program‘s Division of Early Warning and Assessment,
told Reuters in the Caribbean port of Cartagena.
far, dugongs have vanished, or nearly vanished, from the coasts
of Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, the Comoros islands,
Madagascar, the Seychelles and Mauritius, countries that once
were home to herds numbering in the hundreds.
called for the creation of dugong sanctuaries and the reduction
of pollutants that destroy seagrass.
dugong lives in coastal areas in the tropics and subtropics,
grazes on seagrass and weighs up to about 330 pounds (150 kg).
It has a large tail fin, two small front flippers and a
shovel-shaped head with small eyes.
dugong is an indicator for the health of the environment. It is
a clear signal that the living conditions are changing and that
other products of the sea are decreasing,“ said Klaus Toepfer,
UNEP‘s executive director, presenting the first global study
on the mammal.
dugong population grows only five percent a year in the best of
conditions, experts say, so any disruption in its habitat can
cause a chronic decline.
dugong is also hunted for meat, and its tusks are prized as
aphrodisiacs and used to make pipes and amulets. Many have been
hit by boat propellers and killed.
species may not exist anymore in 25 years‘ time,“ said Achim
Steiner, director general of The World Conservation Union, which
contributed to the U.N. report.
by Ibon Villelabeitia REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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