Robust and cost-effective indicators of the status of dugong populations
Project Leader: Prof Helene Marsh, JCU
Dugong abundance and distribution in the GBRWHA have been systematically monitored by JCU using aerial surveys since the mid-1980s. The dugong population estimates from aerial surveys have not varied significantly over time in the remote Cape York region. However, aerial surveys along the urban coast documented a distinct decline in the dugong population between 1986 and 1994. The results of the 1999 survey of the urban coast showed that dugong abundance returned to their pre-1992 levels, probably due to a combination of factors including dugong movements between surveys. This MTSRF-funded project has sought to overcome these potential problems through the development of a series of robust and cost-effective indicators of the status of dugongs in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA), by
- developing a time-series of spatially explicit dugong population models and assessing their value as an indicator of change in dugong distribution and relative risk;
- critically evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the various dugong monitoring tools (dugong aerial surveys, dugong aerial surveys using unmanned aerial vehicles, spatial models and risk assessments, broad scale seagrass surveys and seagrass watch, Catch Per Unit Effort data, and Queensland Marine Strandings Database) to provide information on the status of dugongs and their habitats; and
- identifying appropriate dugong performance indicators for the GBRWHA at an expert workshop.
The major outcome of the technical workshop was the recognition of the applicability and validity of all of the monitoring tools. Furthermore, it was acknowledged that there is not a ‘one size fits all’ monitoring solution; a combination of all the dugong monitoring tools are required to effectively inform management in the remote Cape York region and urban coast. A report card for dugongs - linked to water quality and seagrass report cards - would provide an integrated assessment of the performance of management actions in the GBRWHA by taking into consideration the outputs of multiple monitoring tools.
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