05 Jun Supporting Dugong Conservation through Citizen Science

For almost 30 years, the population of dugongs (Dugong dugon) in the Lease Islands marine protected area (MPA) in Maluku has remained uncertain, creating a gap in data and information. To address this, CTC has conducted dugong population survey and developed a citizen science mechanism to gather information and has invited communities in Saparua Island to report sightings of these charismatic marine mammals, as well as other protected animals, in the waters surrounding their village. The response so far has been outstanding.

The most recent available data on dugongs and seagrass habitats in the Lease Islands comes from a study conducted between 1992 and 1993, during which a total of 22 to 37 individuals were recorded. Since then, only a limited number of informal reports have been documented, suggesting that dugongs have been sighted by both locals and researchers in the waters of Saparua and Nusalaut islands.

The reporting mechanism is a part of the “Kalesang Dugong” collaborative program, jointly run by CTC and the Baileo Maluku Foundation. Termed “Ayo Katong Lapor Dugong” or “Let’s Report Dugongs” in the local language, it facilitates individuals to complete an online Google Form using their electronic devices, upon encountering a dugong. The form requires the provision of sender identity data (e.g., name, address, and contact) and other details of the sightings, including approximate numbers, size, location, time, and the animal’s condition.

CTC introduced this mechanism in April 2023 through socialization and the distribution of a poster that provides information and guidance for reporting. The reporting form can be accessed via the link bit.ly/LaporDugong and is only available in Bahasa Indonesia. The poster was displayed in some local schools, government offices, and during capacity-building activities in the targeted villages of Booi, Porto, Mahu, Paperu, and Ihamahu on Saparua Island. In addition to raising awareness and promoting the conservation of dugongs and their seagrass habitats, the program also aims to educate community members on the critical role these species play in the marine ecosystem.

To date, CTC has received nine report submissions from the fishing community in Saparua, all of which clearly indicate the presence of young and adult dugongs. The most promising location to observe dugongs is in and around Booi Village and Paperu Bay during the morning or night time, where the transition occurs after the tide reaches its peak. CTC has also saved video recordings of local individuals encountering dugongs while swimming in the sea.

CTC MPA Learning Site Manager, Purwanto, expressed his gratitude for the enthusiasm shown by all community members and stakeholders in Saparua who have actively participated in supporting the citizen science program. He hopes to receive reports like this for at least one year, as it will enable CTC to identify important areas and estimate the dugong populations on Saparua Island accurately.

“We hope that this participatory data collection can fill the information gap on dugongs, which are a target species in the Lease Islands MPA, and that has been missing for decades,” he said. CTC will also report and utilize the collected data to support MPA Managers and other relevant partners and stakeholders in the development of dugong management plans and the enhancement of the Lease Islands MPA’s management effectiveness.

The citizen science is not only advantageous for dugong conservation but also for the community. It offers an avenue for individuals to engage in the conservation process and acquire knowledge about the significance of dugongs and their seagrass habitats. It also fosters a sense of ownership among the community towards the environment. By participating in the project, individuals can acquire expertise and abilities that will equip them to become more efficient environmental stewards.

Writers: Purwanto & Yoga Putra
Photo: Josep F. Latumaerissa

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