Residents of Puerto Princesa are being urged by the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (ENRO) to help protect the dugongs by avoiding reckless fishing practices and minimizing coastal pollution that may further harm the species’ decreasing population and other marine life.
In an issued statement Monday, the City ENRO said fishermen should comply with fishery laws and avoid using mesh and gill nets in coastal regions, since dugongs or sea cows (Dugong dugon) may get caught in them and drown rapidly owing to their limited lung capacity.
The appeal was made by the environment office when 69-year-old fisherman and former employee Romeo Buenavista discovered a dugong near the seaport last month, presumably dead from spear wounds on its head and stomach.
Buenavista said he was disheartened when he saw the dead mammal floating from a distance while paddling his boat.
“Nakakaawa talaga. Kamamatay lang ng dugong noong nakita ko siya kasi nagdudugo pa. Tumatagas pa yong dugo nya habang hinihila namin siya papunta ng pampang,” he said.
“Hindi naman malaki ang kanyang sugat. Ito ay tama ng pana. Ang kanyang sugat ay malalalim, at maaaring ito ang kanyang ikinamatay,” Buenavista added.
He immediately notified the City ENRO Enforcement Division-Bantay Dagat Section, which worked with the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS) and other authorities to record the situation and provide for appropriate burial for the dead mammal.
He said the dugong weighed 70 kilos, and was 67 inches long and 17 inches wide. It was buried at the Endangered Species Cemetery located in Barangay Sta Lucia.
Sea cows are classified as a “critically endangered species” and have almost entirely vanished from Philippine waters.
According to scientific research, human actions, particularly reckless fishing and poaching, pose the greatest danger to the dugongs, outnumbering predators such as killer whales and sharks. Fishermen have historically hunted dugongs for their flesh, skin, and oil.
The City ENRO said the Southeast Asian Coral Triangle (CT3), which encompasses Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, is home to dugongs. Due to poaching, pollution, and dwindling habitat, their number has decreased throughout the country.
Despite the fact that Palawan is one of the last strongholds of the dugongs, local fishermen continue to pursue them despite the fact that they have almost disappeared from our coastal waters, it said.
Administrative Aide II Kate Aeriel Gaite of the City ENRO said a dead dugong was also found in the coastal waters of Barangay Tanabag with spear wounds last year. In February this year, a dead dugong with a similar type of wounds was also found near a navy station in Barangay Bagong Silang.
The City ENRO said this implies that, in a short period of time, local fishermen have been hunting dugongs incessantly, oblivious of their significance to the coastal ecology.
Dugongs are also prone to threats such as boat strikes and by-catch because they like to stay in shallow coastal areas. On this, the City ENRO said ordinary citizens can help protect them by traveling slowly in shallow coastal waters since these marine mammals frequently surface to get a breath of fresh air.
“Moving slowly while paddling your banca can give time for you and the dugong to avoid each other and prevent a boat strike,” the City ENRO said.
Dugongs and other marine wildlife are protected mainly by Republic Act (RA) 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code as amended by RA 10654, RA 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and other existing laws.
“Dugongs once grazed in their thousands on the seabed off the Philippines. Today, they can only survive in specially designated areas, where they are guaranteed food and protection from propellers, spearfishing and fishing nets,” the city environment office added.
In Palawan, two marine protected areas were established by the International Non-Government Organizations (INGOs) C3 and rare off Busuanga island and one in mainland Palawan, specifically in Caramay, Roxas.