The Dugong Shepherds 10th Aerial Survey – 2017
10th Anniversary of the Flying Scouts Aerial Dugong Survey
It hardly seems possible that ten years have passed already since that fateful day Tony Smallwood the chief instructor of my flying school challenged me to “go and do something useful” with my freshly minted PPL.
Since then the Flying Scouts have continually surveyed the Dugong population in Krabi and Trang Provinces in Southern Thailand – probably the world’s longest running continuous Dugong survey of its kind.
We now have a dedicated team of three aircraft, one of which is a Gyrocopter to cover a large area of coast line.
As with previous years we were generously supported by K. Suchard and his team at Phuket Airpart, as well as K. Yve at Nok Airfield. ATC provided by AeroThai also deserve a mention, especially the controllers from Hat Yai who operate Tran Airport Tower. They have become avid fans of our project, and have provided us with great service.
Due to an exceptionally prolonged rainy season this year, it was only possible to begin the Krabi survey in early March, and then late March in Trang Province. This worked out well for Krabi, where we had relatively calm winds and good visibility, but not so for Trang, which unusually developed regular afternoon thunderstorms severely hampering our schedule.
A lot of planning and discussion were needed to work the survey around the poor weather in Trang.
The PMBC team were once again superb to work with. From left to right. K Kung, K. Max & K. Oi.
The main survey area was the same as 2016
The top graph of the data below shows the number of deaths which is averaging around 7 animals per year. A very large percentage of the overall population. Main causes are drowning by being trapped in fishing nets, or being struck by boats.
The second figure is the population count. This years count was up on 2016 with 169 animals estimated in total compared to 160 last year, and the trend seems to be improving after an initial decline that seems to have been reversed since four years ago.
Apart from the ongoing conservation activities of the Marine Coastal Resources Department, and its Phuket Marine Biology Center, (PMBC), one of the main reasons for this improvement in population has been the support of local government officials especially in Trang to enforce the no fish zone around the Dugong’s protected habitat. This year we were invited to meet with Trang Governor Mr Siriphat Phatthakun, who has taken a special interest in marine animal conservation and is a keen diver.
Trang Governor Mr Siriphat Phatthakun was also sporting enough to join Capt. Ed for a survey flight.
This year we were once again kindly joined by a Gyrocopter courtesy of K. Arnud who allowed pilot K. Best from Phuket Airpark to support our mission.
Mike Wilson also ferried HS-CRZ from Nok Airfield,
Joined by his number one fan – Harriet, his wife.
The Cruzer performed flawlessly and has proven itself a valuable addition to the Flying Scouts Team.
We also managed to have some fun along the way…
The survey is to be expanded later on this year to cover the upper Gulf of Thailand which has never been surveyed by air.
Several new marine biologists from other parts of Thailand joined this years mission so they can be trained on aerial survey techniques ready for when the surveys are conducted in their areas.