A five-day aerial census of marine species with focus on the sea dugongs, a declining mammal, has started at the Coast. According to Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Director General, Kitili Mbati, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed them as vulnerable.
KWS, in partnership with the Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) and Pwani University will conduct the aerial census.
‘’The survey will focus on dugongs in the area between Diani and Vanga in the South Coast and Ungwana Bay and Kiunga in the North coast,’’ Mr Mbati said, adding that “dugongs are threatened worldwide by loss and degradation of sea grass, fishing pressure, indigenous use, hunting and coastal pollution.’’
Dugong is a marine mammal in the sirenia order, which includes other species like manatees and the sea cow. In a speech read on his behalf by Assistant Director, Coast Conservation Area Mohamed Kheri, the KWS director general said the survey is a regionally coordinated event that involves Tanzania, the Seychelles, Mozambique and Kenya.
In Kenya, the exercise involves the use of light aircraft fitted with special cameras flying at 150 metres above sea level to tract out for among others carcass on the beach, turtles nesting sites, fishing activities, gear and other marine species.
Dugongs population has been declining rapidly in Kenya as indicated from aerial surveys. Initial surveys indicate that 500 were sighted off the South Coast of Kenya in 1967. Before 1961, populations were defined as plenty in Lamu although in some sites such as Chiamboni (in Somalia), Formosa Bay and Malindi they were rarely seen though they were very many.
KWS further states that aerial surveys conducted in 1973, 1975, 1980, 1994 and 1996 indicate a sharp decline in their population. In 1994 and 1996, 10 and six were counted during aerial surveys in Lamu, indicating a sharp decline in their populations.
The Kenyan dugong population was estimated to be approximately 50 at the time. KWS further states that on a global scale, a decline of up to 20 per cent has been recorded over the last 90 years and there is a risk they could be extinct unless immediate conservation measures are taken.
The marine aerial census is part of a Western Indian Ocean region effort funded by the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) and involves regional experts.
Dr Nina Wambiji, Senior Scientist at KMFRI and Kenya Country WIOMSA Coordinator Dr Mohamed Omar, Head of Wetlands and Marine Conservation at KWS, Jacob Ochiewo, Assistant director KMFRI (Social Economics) and Dr Maarifa Mwakumaya from Pwani University attended the launch.
The experts are drawn from the Centre for Dolphins Studies of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, the Mammal Research Institute Whale Unit of the University of Pretoria, University Eduardo Mondlane of Mozambique, Livestock and Fisheries Ministry of Zanzibar, the Seychelles Island Foundation, Institute of Marine Sciences of Zanzibar and Sea Sense of Tanzania.
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