India gets its first Dugong Conservation Reserve in Tamil Nadu

448 square kilometers in Palk Bay covering coastal waters of Thanjavur and Pudukkotai districts have been notified as the reserve

448 square kilometers in Palk Bay covering coastal waters of Thanjavur and Pudukkotai districts have been notified as the reserve

Tamil Nadu on Wednesday notified the country’s first ‘Dugong Conservation Reserve’ in Palk Bay covering the coastal waters of Thanjavur and Pudukottai districts with an area of 448 square kilometers.

“We have scripted history and this is yet another milestone in conservation history of Tamil Nadu. The notification is a very proud moment for TN Forest Department and conservationists across the globe,” said Supriya Sahu, Additional Chief Secretary, Environment, Climate Change and Forests.

Dugongs are the largest herbivorous marine mammals in the world thriving primarily on seagrass beds, a major carbon sink of the oceans. Dugongs are protected under Schedule 1 of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. However, their population is on the decline due to habitat loss.

There are only about 240 individuals estimated to be present in the country and the majority is found in Tamil Nadu coast (Palk Bay). Hence, there is an imminent need to protect Dugongs and their habitat from degradation. The government had last year announced its decision to set up the reserve, said an official release.

Conserving dugongs will help to protect and improve seagrass beds and sequestering more atmospheric carbon. Seagrass beds are also the breeding and feeding grounds for many commercially valuable fishes and marine fauna. Hence, thousands of fisher families directly depend on dugong habitats for their income, the release said.

The coastal communities along Palk Bay understand the need to conserve dugongs and they have been cooperating with forest department in the conservation efforts ever since. The notification of a Conservation Reserve will not cause any new restrictions or regulations to the fishing communities, rather it focuses on their participation and cooperation for the conservation efforts.

To realise these objectives the government has notified the ‘Dugong Conservation Reserve’ in Palk Bay, after holding extensive consultations with coastal communities, especially with the local fishermen, Ms. Sahu said.

While a lot of work has already happened for forest conservation, marine species conservation has not got the attention it deserves. Tamil Nadu is blessed to have rich marine biodiversity and is home to several rare and endangered fishes and turtle species. With a long coastline of 1076 km and 14 coastal districts TN is well poised to lead in marine species conservation, she emphasised.

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