The Dugong Shepherds 17th Aerial Survey – 2024

17th Anniversary of the Flying Scouts Aerial Dugong Survey

Thai Dugong population in crisis.

Despite intensive aerial surveying of Phuket, Phang Nga bay, Surat Thani, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Krabi, Trang, & Satun provinces, it has become clear that the Thai Dugong population has been significantly disrupted compared to previous years.

Although increased numbers were found in Krabi, and other provinces, the census conducted in Trang – the traditional main herd location – was down almost 70% compared to other years.

The Department of Marine Coastal Resources (DMCR) specialists have attributed this decline to the deterioration of the traditional sea grass beds, the staple food of the Dugong.

Several factors coinciding at the same time have formed a perfect storm. Firstly, “La Nina” presiding over this year’s weather systems, has increased the sea temperature by 1-2 degrees. Secondly, the sea level in Trang Province has receded, caused by over silting, exposing the richer in-shore sea grass beds to damaging UV, and also denying the Dugongs access other than at extremely high tides. Either one of these effects would be damaging by themselves, but combined together they have decimated the only Dugong food source.

Thirdly, increased human activity such as dredging and fishing have exasperated the situation.

 

There are however several glimmers of hope that the initial situation is not as dire as it looks at first glance. It is believed, and the data from this year’s aerial survey confirms this theory, that the population has migrated to other areas, but in much smaller groups.

Phang Nga bay was once again the start of the survey during mid February 2024.  Reports of  Dugong sightings in front of  Phuket Airpark had the team very excited.  Two survey flights were conducted and Mother with Calf pair as well as Finless Poipoises were observed around Pak Lok and Ko Yao Yai.

Capt. Amy from Phuket Airpark was kind enough to help conduct the aerial survey. Here with Dr. Fai from DMCR acting as observer.

Our grateful thanks to Phuket Airpark for hosting us and Miss Dippy.

After Phang Nga bay, the survey mission moved to Krabi, based at VTSG – Krabi Airport.

Krabi video courtesy of K. Fai, DMCR

The Krabi Aerial survey was very successful this year, with several new locations identified, boosting the theory that the Dugongs are migrating north.

After Krabi and Trang province, Flying Ed teamed up with the Chumphon DMCR team to survey Surat Thani and Koh Samui areas.

Several Dugong sightings in the Surat Thani bay, up on last year were spotted, however strong winds made observation challenging. In addition to Dugongs, around 19 Humpback dolphins were observed.

This one was caught eating a catfish.

A lot of valuable data was gathered as part of this year’s aerial survey, the most important of which will be used to identify likely new migration areas and focus future survey’s there.  In addition the DMCR have mobilised several programmes to restore some of the sea grass beds in the hope they will allow the return of Dugongs.

Miss Dippy guides the drone crew over an adult Dugong

Surat Thani video courtesy of Dr Oui, DMCR

Krabi 2024 Aerial Survey Team

Photography & video (c) DMCR . Artwork (c) Tom Potisit.

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
Account No. : 471-2-38244-4 . Swift Code. : K A S I T H B K

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