The Dugong Shepherds 15th Aerial Survey – 2022
15th Anniversary of the Flying Scouts Aerial Dugong Survey
Last year’s Survey Mission – 2021 was cut short after Thailand entered its second Covid-19 lockdown at the beginning of April 2021. Since then during early 2022, most restrictions have been lifted, which enabled an ambitious survey schedule to be launched starting in Surat Thani, including Songkhla, Krabi, Trang, and Phang Nga Bay.
Surat Thani is a new location for the survey mission.
The Chumphon Department of Marine Coastal Resources (DMCR) office requested this area be surveyed based on local fishermen reports of several adult observations.
The flight path for the survey was directly under the inbound approach to Surat Thani Airport (VTSB) so coordination with the Surat Thani Airport tower and approach ATC enabled Miss Dippy to fulfil her mission.
The area surveyed is quite large so wider transects were used. On the first flight three adult Dugongs were observed at Waypoint (WP) 0771-0773 which was very encouraging.
Despite the promising start, poor weather in the bay and airport surrounds hampered further flights. In addition Miss Dippy had a minor technical fault, necessitating an early return to Phuket Airpark. (VTSW) for repairs, which cut short the mission by one day, and further observation was not possible.
For next year, it is planned to extend both the area and period of a future survey.
After a brief rest, Miss Dippy relocated to Songkhla Naval Airport (VTSH) to survey the stranded Irrawaddy Dolphins in Songkhla Lake. The last aerial survey conducted there was in 2013, during which approximately 24 adults were observed.
The Thai Royal Navy were very accommodating, with several officers who had been part of the previous 2013 survey, welcoming Flying Ed back upon arrival.
Once again, poor weather and strong winds hampered good observation conditions, which prevented any observations of dolphins. A frustrating result. Hopefully next year later in the year will be better.
Trang Airport (VTST), was the main base for the next part of the Dugong aerial survey.
Trang province is like an old friend to the survey team, especially the staff at Trang Airport (VTST), some of whom have been working there since the start of the survey 15 years ago!
There are images and statues of Dugongs everywhere .
K. Amy from Phuket Airpark also generously volunteered to come and help Flying Ed using her Zenair CH701 aircraft to share the workload.
Flying aerial surveys accurately is very hard work, requiring a lot of skill and patience, which K Amy demonstrated over many hours or grueling flying.
Our efforts were rewarded with some excellent flying conditions and breathtaking scenery.
Koh Talibong Front Scenery
Koh Talibong Rear Scenery
We also observed several bottlenose dolphin pods
After 15 years of surveying it is inevitable that new generations of marine biologists will join the project. This year most of the crew were new and many joined from different regions in order to gain experience for future aerial surveys in their jurisdiction.
All the new team members were eager, dedicated and extremely professional, which is what motivates the Flying Scouts to continue supporting this worthwhile project.
K. Or joined from Samut Sakon province (normally where Bryde Whale surveys are conducted).
She was very enthusiastic and a quick learner. A valuable addition to the ever increasing survey family. The Flying Scouts look forward to working with her and the other new team members.
This year saw the extended use of drones to aid with the survey observations.
The drones are launched from a boat after being guided to specific spots by Miss Dippy flying overhead as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) using a VHF radio.
Miss Dippy Forward Air Controller
The results are very precise and will help greatly with recording behavior and identification.
Mother & Calf drone footage
White scar drone footage
During 2022, we had one of the most rewarding surveys in Trang with respect to both the flying conditions and animals surveyed, indicating that the population in Trang province have benefited greatly from the Covid-19 pandemic. Worryingly however, fewer mother and calf pairs were observed this year than ever before.
In the past, Krabi has been an elusive place to spot Dugongs mainly due to the windy conditions prevalent throughout the year. 2022, proved to be very different, and we were blessed with early morning high tide calm wind combinations that allowed us to observe the highest number of Dugong sightings at Krabi since we began surveying there 15 years ago. Also, in contrast to Trang, we did observe several mother and calf pairs.
Significantly there was an abundance of jelly fish observed at all the survey locations this year, and with them a very large population of Green Sea Turtles which feed on jelly fish amongst other things.
We also observed a definite symbiotic relationship between the Sea Turtles and the Dugongs, often observing them feeding in close proximity.
Krabi Province Mangroves
Trang Scenery- It never gets old.
The following videos are 360 degree videos, which means you can look around.
Use the cursor to alter the viewing angle of the video. Also works by rotating your mobile device if you are watching it on a phone or tablet. If you are unable to alter the viewing angle, or do not see the cursor logo try opening the video directly in YouTube by clicking on the logo at the bottom of the video.
One of the joys of flying in this glorious environment is the chance to fly amongst some of the most stunning scenery in the world.
Now and again we get to fly for fun on the way back from surveying.
Donations for the Gibbon Project – Any Amount!
Kasikorn Bank, Thanon Suthep Branch, Chiang Mai
Account Name: The Wild Animal Rescue Foundation of Thailand For GRPC
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