The dugong is now functionally extinct in China after widespread habitat degradation and historic hunting, scientists have said.
Fishing and ship attacks are also some of the reasons dugong activity has declined, said Professor Samuel Turvey of the ZSL Institute of Zoology, who described the findings as a “wake-up call” to prioritize conservation efforts. .
Since 1988, the dugong has been classified as a first-class nationally important protected animal by the Chinese State Council, giving it the highest level of protection. However, there is no data on the dugong’s presence in China since 2008.
“Our new study shows strong evidence of the regional loss of another charismatic aquatic mammal species in China — unfortunately again driven by unsustainable human activity,” said Turvey, one of the authors of the study published in the Royal. Society Open Science Journal.
The dugongs are particularly dependent on seagrass, a specific marine habitat that is rapidly being affected by human influences from coastal development to water pollution.
Turvey said seagrass beds are also vulnerable to a process called “eutrophication” — in which algal blooms occur as a result of man-made increases in nutrients in the water, such as from sewage. This “reduces the ability of light to penetrate seawater and thus prevents seagrass photosynthesis,” Turvey said.
While seagrass recovery and recovery efforts in China are considered a major conservation priority, the recovery process can be lengthy and may already be too late for the dugong populations living there.
dr. Heidi Ma, a postdoctoral researcher at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology and also an author of the study, said the researchers conducted interview surveys in four southern maritime provinces along the coastal region of the South China Sea to gather local knowledge about dugong sightings. and their regional condition.
The use of surveys among local residents “demonstrates the utility of ecological knowledge in understanding species status, but also helps us engage local communities and explore potential causes of wildlife degradation and potential mitigation solutions,” said mom.
The researchers also reviewed historical data on the past distribution and activity of the dugong in China.
The study authors said they would “welcome any possible future evidence” that dugongs might still persist in China — however, their research shows no recent evidence of dugong survival in their known homes in mainland China’s waters.
Outside of China, dugong populations can be found in tropical and subtropical coastal waters from Vanuatu to the southwestern islands of Japan. They are globally threatened and listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The new research is “a sobering reminder that extinctions can occur before effective conservation actions are developed,” Turvey said.