(Editor’s note: Conservancy Senior Marine Scientist Alison Green is on an expedition to the Raja Ampat islands in Indonesia — amidst some of the most spectacular and biodiverse coral reef ecosystems in the world. Catch up on all her posts from the expedition.)
Marine mammals such as whales and dolphins are quite common in Raja Ampat. However dugong — sea cows that feed on seagrasses — are not as common. We don’t know why, but perhaps there has been a decline in their habitat due to human activities. We’ve also heard that they are sometimes caught accidentally in fish traps.
Andreas Muljadi and Purwanto Irawan have the best job on this survey — they get to swim long distances (400m per dive) looking for large reef fishes such as sharks, large groupers, wrasses and parrotfishes, which are particularly vulnerable to over-exploitation.
Yesterday when I surfaced from my dive, I knew that they’d seen something very special because I could hear them yahooing with excitement from the boat. When I swam over to them, they tried to tell me what they’d seen, but they were so excited that it came out as a jumble of English and Bahasa Indonesian and I couldn’t understand them!
They were excited because they’d just had a close encounter with a dugong, locally known as duyung, on their long swim.
When they first saw it, they didn’t recognize it because they were looking for big fish and weren’t expecting to see a dugong on a coral reef! And then it swam right up beside them, about 3m away, and there was no doubt about it. Wow!
Andreas has been monitoring the reefs in Raja Ampat for 6 years, and this is only the second time he’s seen a dugong underwater here. Purwanto was even more excited, because he has been monitoring the reefs in Wakatobi National Park for 6 years and he’s never seen one there!
This was an excellent sighting, because it confirms that this magnificent creature is alive and well in Raja Ampat.