The declining status of seagrass and dugong populations in the region was just one of the reasons delegates from four of the five Pacific island range states for dugong convened in Solomon Islands this month.
Participants from New Caledonia, Palau, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu met to also review the progress of the four-year conservation programme for dugong and seagrass in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The meeting also provided feedback on SPREP’s Dugong Action Plan 2018 – 2022.
After four days of discussions, participants concluded that more efforts need to be made in raising public awareness and on developing reliable abundance estimates for dugong and mapping the seagrass meadows of the range states.
“Delegates congratulated Solomon Islands and Vanuatu on the progress achieved through the GEF project and also the work carried out in other range states. New Caledonia and Palau are willing to share their experiences with all range states and are ready to consider regional collaboration in support of addressing these pressing issues,” said Mr Michael Donoghue, the Threatened and Migratory Species Adviser of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).
“It was recognised that the Questionnaire on Dugong led by the Convention on Migratory Species was a valuable tool to identify likely hotspots for further research and possible protected areas. Other resources that are available for communities and researchers to collect further vital information include a web-based Dugong and Seagrass Research Toolkit which highlights approaches such as those used by Seagrass-Watch,” said Dr. Donna Kwan, Programme Management Officer, of the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) Dugong Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
Going forward, it was agreed that the completion of the GEF Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project should provide a platform for more investment in the mapping of seagrass, greater collaboration between range states, stronger technical support from developed countries and their academic and research institutions, awareness-raising of the ecological value of seagrass, and better assessments of the status and trends of dugong populations. Central to the success of this vision will be the commitment of communities and governments to protect dugongs and their seagrass habitat and tangible support from SPREP, the Pacific Community (SPC) and other partners to help them to achieve this.
“Participants acknowledged that while policy and legislation both play an important role in dugong and seagrass conservation, community support was vital, not only in ensuring compliance with existing laws protecting dugongs, but also where these do not yet exist, in lobbying for appropriate legislation and locally-based management. It was also agreed that while there is a greater awareness of the vital role of seagrass and the ecosystem services it provides, much remains to be done to protect remaining meadows,” said Dr. Len McKenzie, Principal Research at James Cook University and Director of Seagrass-Watch.
Particular emphasis was placed on the role of the UK Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), Universities, Seagrass Watch and available standardised tools and approaches such as CMS Questionnaire on Dugong to provide the technical support available to improve our knowledge of seagrass distribution in the region.
The meeting was convened at the Agnes Gateway Hotel in Munda, Western Province, Solomon Islands from 5 to 8 March, 2018.
The regional seagrass and dugong conservation workshop was organised by SPREP under the GEF Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project with support from all global and regional Project Partners. The Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project is executed by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, with financing from the GEF, implementation support by the UN Environment and technical support from the CMS Dugong MoU.
The workshop was also supported by the Solomon Islands Government; representatives from New Caledonia, Palau, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu; and the Pacific Community (SPC), the UK Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) , the Universities of Newcastle and Queensland, Seagrass-Watch (currently housed James Cook University), the private sector company EnerGaia, and the Tetepare Descendants’ Association.