Dugongs in Komodo National Park
Dugongs have long been one of the marine animals SCUBA divers and snorkelers alike have had on their bucket lists to see in their natural habitat. Komodo is one of the dive destinations people travel to, hoping to glimpse these beautiful creatures. In this post, we aim to give you an understanding of the habitat, feeding habits and a brief over of their behaviour and physical biology. Additionally, we talk about some of the threats they are facing, along with many other marine animals around the globe.
- Background :
Dugongs (Dugong dugon) are a marine mammal found in the warm coastal waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans and are commonly thought to have brought about the idea of mermaids and sirens as sailors viewed them from their ships. The largest populations of dugongs occur in Australia however, they can also be found feeding on seagrass on the east coast of Africa as well as the Red Sea.
- Physical Characteristics :
Similar to the American manatee but with a more tapered body and a notched tail like a dolphin or whale. They have been recorded up to 3.4 meters in length and weighing up to 420kg. Their front flippers are rounded and help direct them through the water column. The mouth parts of the dugong are located on the underside of their head and have thick bristles which are sensory organs used while they are foraging for food. The male dugong has tusklike incisors, and it is thought that the parallel scars found on the dorsal side of both male and female dugongs result from mating and fighting.
- Dugongs in the Komodo National Park
While most people think of diving in Komodo as drifting with a current over the top of beautiful hard and soft corals, sponges and sea fans; a reef teeming with life as mantas, turtles and sharks glide past. Komodo has anther valuable marine resource that is often overlooked…Seagrass meadows, which happen to be some of the most diverse, widespread, and finest found in all of Indonesia. Located in some of the muddy mangrove forests is a species of seagrass Enhalus acoroides which happens to be one of the most fibrous and largest of the seagrass species provides an ideal habitat for juvenile fish. In some of the smaller embayment’s one of the smaller species of seagrass Halophila ovalis thrives due to the lack of light penetration. The large, concentrated amount of amino acids, and carbohydrates combined with low fibre and make it one of the dugong’s favourites. Although your dive centre is unlikely going to drop divers and snorkelers into the mangrove areas, there are extensive Thalassia hemprichii beds which reach out and meet up with the coral reefs providing both turtles and dugongs with important nutrients. Keep in mind, dugongs are shy creatures and the best chance to see one is your first dive of the day off a liveaboard.
Natural predators such as orcas, sharks and crocodiles have always been a part of the cycle of life keeping these herbivores population in check. In the past dugongs were widely hunted by humans for their meat, hides and oil. In more recent times the threat of their localized extinction remains due to excessive hunting and habitat loss. In 2022 the dugong was declared functionally extinct because of populations falling to low. Habitat deterioration, fishing gear entanglement, and boat strikes, coupled with their slow reproductive rates make population recovery difficult. Unfortunately, in Indonesia dugong teeth are still used in fishing villages for ceremonial purposes across the country even though it is illegal. Currently, it is estimated that there are less than 1000 left in Indonesia although more studies would have to be done to understand their distribution. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has had the dugong classified as a vulnerable species since 1982.
Let’s plan your next dive trip in Komodo with Dragon Dive, and we will do our best to try to encounter those giants and iconic mammals.