Thailand Dugongs in Phang Nga Bay

The Dugong, Dugongidae, is a very unique creature. In an attempt to describe its mysterious form the Dugong has been likened to a cow and is also responsible for the myth of the mermaid. When viewed from above, sailors of ancient times would mistake the top half of the Dugong for a woman’s figure. They also believed that Dugong sightings would bring them luck. Today the Dugong is a very rare mammal to come across as they are now on the endangered species list – fearing there to only be about 50 left. The collapse of the species is a result of generations of mindless destruction of their habitats and feeding grounds. The Dugong is heavily dependent on sea grasses for subsistence and is thus restricted to the coast. The largest Dugong concentrations typically occur in wide, shallow, protected areas such as bays, mangrove channels and the lee sides of large inshore islands. But because of over-fishing and the clearing of such habitats to make way for creations such as shrimp farms these mystifying creatures are running out of places to call home.

Thailand DugongThe Dugong can be found distributed amongst the shallow under water fields of sea grass from East Africa to Australia. At the moment the most suitable place to inhabit are the sands and mudflats off the Andaman Sea coast of the Trang province, Thailand. The islands and coastline of the Andaman Sea are among the most beautiful marine habitats that can be found anywhere in the world. This area, with the help of the local inshore fishermen and the NGO, is now receiving rightful conservation including laws against any form of harm to the Dugong.

Weighing up to as much as 380kg and reaching up to 3m in length, the peaceful Dugong is commonly associated with the Amazonian Manatee. The adult Dugong has thick smooth skin that is sparsely covered in short hair. It is a brownish colour which turns to a darker grey with age. The Dugong is part of the Sirenian family; an order of fully aquatic herbivorous mammals with major aquatic adaptations: forelimbs modified into arms for steering, the tail has modified into a paddle used for propulsion and hind limbs (legs) are but two small remnant bones floating deep in the muscle. In order to graze the sea grasses the Dugong also has a sharply turned down snout – one of the features of the species that is responsible for its alias; the ‘sea cow’.

The groups of islands off the shores of Satun, Trang, Krabi and Phuket are accountable for some of Thailand’s most striking coral reefs; in the best areas the water is clear, allowing visibility to depths of 40m or more! A journey out to the Andaman Sea surrounding these islands may yield encounters with manta rays, giant marine turtles, whale sharks and even perhaps the Dugong.

Unfortunately, though, due to past mistreatment they won’t be found in great numbers, as they were only a few decades ago. But Thailand’s constant concern and effort to help these creatures is sure to start seeing them herd in larger numbers. Besides the chance of survival for this species, larger numbers also means larger chances of fortune for Thais, particularly Southern Thai Muslims on the coast who believe that if a man can collect and drink the tears from a Dugong he will be forever lucky in love.

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