The Tamil Nadu government announced plans to set up India’s first Dugong Conservation Reserve in the Palk Bay on the southeast coast of the state. Dugong or sea cow is an endangered marine mammal that is facing extinction due to habitat loss, sea pollution, and loss of seagrass. In Tamil Nadu, dugong is found in Gulf of Mannar, which is a shallow bay area between south eastern tip of Tamil Nadu and western part of Sri Lanka, and at Palk Bay, a semi enclosed shallow area in the same region.
Tamil Nadu’s Minister of Forests K Ramachandran said that in order to protect the species, Dugong Marine Conservation Reserve will be established in the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay area with community participation. The Marine Conservation Reserve will cover an area of 500km in Palk Bay.
Dugong is a sea mammal and the only living species of the order Sirenia. It is restricted to coastal habitat due to sea grass, which forms major part of its diet. Dugongs have a distinct dolphin-like tail, a different skull form, and teeth pattern. Its closest relative, Steller’s Sea cow, was hunted to extinction in eighteenth century.
An estimated 200 individuals of dugongs are believed to live in the area which would largely benefit from Tamil Nadu government’s recent decision to establish conservation reserve.