CMS Dugong MOU Hosts Arabian Gulf Dugong Conservation Workshop

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) Office – Abu Dhabi, in partnership with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), has concluded a three-day workshop on dugong and science and management in the Arabian Gulf region.

The workshop was held on the 2nd – 4th May 2023 at the Khalidiya Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi and brought together experts and stakeholders from across the region to discuss the current status of the Arabian Gulf dugong population, to develop strategies for regional collaboration and gain knowledge on new technology and research methodologies.

H.E. Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, Secretary General of EAD opened the workshop with remarks highlighting the importance of dugong conservation in the region, saying: “I would like to welcome to this workshop this special delegation of researchers from the GCC region as well as the international team of experts who will be sharing their valuable experience and expertise on the best way to study and protect dugongs. I am sure we all have something valuable to share with each other and something valuable to learn about this remarkable species. It is such an honour to witness all of the region’s dugong researchers in one place and for Abu Dhabi to host this important meeting,”

She added: “The dugong population in the Arabian Gulf is the world’s second most important after Australia, with the UAE’s waters home to 3,000 dugongs. Our wise and visionary leadership have always recognised the importance of dugongs and that is why we are proud to have hosted the CMS Dugong Secretariat since 2007. We have also progressed over the years to using technology and innovative methods to help us study dugongs to get a better understanding of their characteristics and unique habits. We are now in the age of artificial intelligence and learning new methods for conducting aerial studies, tracking and monitoring dugongs.

She also expressed her gratitude to the CMS Office – Abu Dhabi for organising the workshop and to the participants for their ongoing commitment to this important cause.

Rouba Abou-Atieh, Executive Coordinator of CMS Office – Abu Dhabi, also provided opening remarks, emphasizing the importance of collaboration and knowledge-sharing in dugong conservation, stating ‘We are thrilled to have such a diverse group of experts and stakeholders here today … I am confident that the discussions that take place over the next few days will help us to advance our knowledge and understanding of dugong conservation, and to develop effective collaborative strategies for the future.’

The workshop included a diverse group of international experts in the field of dugong conservation who led interactive panel sessions on a range of topics, including: the use of the CMS Dugong Catch & ByCatch Questionnaire for science and management (Dr. Nicolas Pilcher); aerial surveys and the use of artificial intelligence (Dr. Chrisophe Cleguer); a practical guide to carrying out necropsies (Dr. Daniela Denk), and opportunities for insights from live-stranded and necropsied dugongs (Prof. Helene Marsh).

Participants from Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were all invited to present on the current status and knowledge of dugong populations within their territories, and Prof. Helene Marsh presented on the planned review of the ‘Global Report on the status and trends of dugong populations’, and the Arabian Gulf chapter. The workshop concluded with a trip to SeaWorld Abu Dhabi, where attendees had the opportunity to observe a dugong necropsy, providing a unique capacity building opportunity.

The workshop provided a valuable opportunity for stakeholders and experts from across the region to come together and discuss the challenges facing dugongs and their habitat. It is only through collaborative efforts such as these that we can hope to protect and conserve this important species.” Gabriel Grimsditch, CMS Dugong MOU Coordinator.

In closing, the CMS Office – Abu Dhabi expressed its gratitude to EAD for supporting the workshop, to SeaWorld for accommodating a live necropsy, and to all the workshop attendees for their participation and contributions to the panel discussions. The importance of continued regional collaboration to protect and conserve dugongs and their habitat in the Arabian Gulf region was also emphasised. As a primary outcome of the meeting, the CMS Office – Abu Dhabi, Dugong MOU will be seeking to establish a Technical Working Group to discuss a standardised aerial survey methodology across the region.