By Pratch Rujivanarom
The National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), the sponsor of the project, stopped funding it following opposition from the community. However, a leading veterinarian said that the GPS tracking devices are safe and the study result is crucial for dugong conservation.
NSTDA cluster and programme management office director Rangsima Tantalekha said that as the project to study the mammals’ behaviour and habitat faced criticism from local fishermen and environmentalists, they decided to cease funding.
“NSTDA funds the project for one year on a budget of Bt1 million, but we decide to stop the funding, because we see that the project is causing conflict in the community and we want to work with every stakeholder. The NSTDA will invite the experts to advise local fishermen on the proper method to remove the tracking devices from dugongs,” Rangsima said.
Andaman Foundation coordinator Pakpoom Withantirawat said that local people did not agree with the project and the group had sent a letter to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to reconsider the project.
Rangsima said that to remove the tracking devices, local fishermen would chase the dugongs to exhaust them and catch them later to lessen the risk of injury.
In April, Hat Chao Mai Marine National Park chief Manote Wongsureerat started the project by installing GPS tracking devices on three dugongs that live within the national park.
Manote said that the research would be used to set up a protected perimeter in the area where dugongs live and graze on sea grass. Fishing activities will not be allowed in the area.
Dr Nantarika Chansue from Chulalongkorn University’s Veterinary Madical Aquatic animal Research Centre, who assisted on the project, said that the tracking devices are harmless to the mammals and the research was crucial for dugong conservation.
“This tracking device has been tested on dugongs in Australia, having been designed and produced in the US. It is proven that it is not dangerous to dugongs or interferes with its living conditions,” Nantarika said.
“The devices are also small compare to the size of a dugong, as the weight of the device is only three kilograms, but the average dugong weight is around 300 kg.”
She said that because of the project, researchers now know where the studied dugongs live and authorities can set up the safe zone, which is essential for the dugong conservation effort. She said that 90 per cent of dugong deaths were from fishing equipment.
Nantarika also said that efforts to chase and catch the mammals to remove the tracking devices would harm them.
“I totally oppose the effort to catch dugongs by chasing them, as it will surely harm the animal and I am concerned that the operation will end in the death of dugongs,” she added.