A WWF campaign in two southern districts in Mozambique is helping to raise awareness of the endangered dugong, once found in large numbers off the country's coast.
The campaign — targeted at local fishing communities and associations, schools, governmental authorities, tourism operators and the general public — is being conducted in the districts of Inhassoro and Vilankulos, in an area surrounding the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park. It is believed that this is the only place along the East African cost that still hosts a significant dugong population.
Dugongs, or sea cows as they are sometimes called, are marine animals which can grow to about 3m in length and weigh as much as 400kg. They inhabit shallow, tropical waters throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
According to local fishermen, it was once very common to see dugongs in large numbers in Mozambique's waters, but those numbers are declining due to bycatch — the accidental capture of fish and other marine animals in fishing gear — as well as their intentional capture for meat.
“Thanks to pervious campaigns, the local population, especially fishermen, is aware of the importance of the species and the prohibition of catching and consuming it,” said WWF-Mozambique’s marine programme coordinator, Marcos Pereira, who is leading the dugong campaign.
“More work needs to be done. We need to identify the reasons why the practice [of catching dugongs for meat] continues despite the fact that there is information available.”
A recent village debate in Vilankulo on the dugong issue, organized by WWF-Mozambique, concluded that urgent law enforcement was needed to protect dugongs from poachers.
“Law enforcement is still a big problem. People here pretend they don’t know about the legislation or simply ignore it,” said Bendito Banze, a ranger at the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park.
“I have in my house heaps of bones of about 11 dugongs, which I found in the homes of fishermen. The offenders remain unpunished and continue capturing dugongs.”
Many believe that one of the best tools to mitigate the impact of this problem is what WWF is currently doing in the field — awareness and education campaigns.
The WWF dugong campaign runs until the end of 2007.