Qatar University (QU) in collaboration with ExxonMobil Research Qatar (EMRQ) and Texas A&M University at Galveston (TAMUG) recently hosted a two-day workshop at Qatar University’s Research Complex to discuss Qatar’s dugong population, their global status, and current and future strategies for their conservation in the State of Qatar.
The workshop followed the recent signing of an agreement in July by the three parties to further environmental research and marine mammal initiatives relevant to Qatar. Close to 40 environmental regulators and academics, from environment research, management, and conservation institutes, and other stakeholders, including the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning, participated in the discussion on strategies and recommendations for dugong conservation as well as current and future collaborative opportunities.
Qatar is the home of the largest population of dugongs outside of Australia -- large, herbivorous marine mammals that consume sea grasses, can reach lengths of more than 3 meters, weigh more than 400 kilograms, and live up to 60 years. Historically, dugongs have a cultural and economic importance to Qataris, having been used as both an economic and food resource in the Arabian Gulf for more than 7,500 years.
Though long-living, dugongs have a low reproductive output. They are listed as Vulnerable to Extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Currently, dugongs in Qatar face challenges including incidental fishing and habitat degradation. Limited research has been conducted on Qatari dugongs thus far and the tri-party initiative will aim to develop the scientific understanding needed to inform decisions for their protections and conservation. The extreme marine and physical environment of the Arabian Gulf, as well as the northern limit of dugong distribution may suggest that their life-history will differ from populations in Australia.
In his welcoming remarks, QU Associate VP for Research and Strategic Initiatives Dr Bhanu Chowdhary said that the workshop was a unique opportunity for Qatar University to lead research on dugong habitat and conservation in cooperation with EMRQ and TAMUG. “The expertise and excellent facilities and resources available at QU through the Environmental Studies Center, and other departments and research units in various colleges, along with various national and regional partners, will allow the research partners to successfully tackle key issues related to conservation of this indigenous species”, he said.
He added that he looked forward to the follow-up of the meeting which should advance the journey towards preservation and enhancement of the species that is of such historical importance to Qatari society. He also reaffirmed QU’s commitment to knowledge-sharing and providing expertise for multidisciplinary research, education and learning in line with the organization’s research priorities and in contribution to the objectives of Qatar National Vision 2030, National Research Strategy, and other national development strategies. “We are pleased to collaborate with EMRQ and TAMUG on this important initiative and appreciate the lead taken by the Environmental Studies Center, and the support received by the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning to further environment sustainability efforts in Qatar”, he added.
“We are extremely pleased to be working with Qatar University and Texas A&M University at Galveston to conduct research on Qatar’s dugong population. The dugong species is a fascinating one, and we are committed to understanding more about it, while ensuring that it is protected and continues to thrive in its natural habitat,” said EMRQ Research Director Dr Jennifer Dupont. “Our research efforts at EMRQ are geared towards supporting Qatar Foundation’s National Research Strategy with regard to energy and the environment, and also endorse ExxonMobil’s commitment to support Qatar’s development, while ensuring the protection of its people and environment.”
TAMUG Department of Marine Biology assistant professor Dr Christopher D. Marshall who provided the background on the biology of dugongs and the unique habitat of Qatar, described Qatari and Arabian Gulf dugongs as likely “the most important population in the western part of the dugongs’ distribution”.