Posted on March 21, 2016

Dr. Christopher Warren, Environmental Research Lead for ExxonMobil Research Qatar (EMRQ), recently delivered a fun, interactive presentation on Qatar’s dugongs at Al Bayan Secondary School for Girls for a group of 50 students.

Dr. Warren was invited to give the presentation as part of a student-led workshop on dugong awareness. The student organizers and workshop attendees are part of the Al Bayan Go Blue ROTA Youth Service Club, which is part of ROTA’s Youth Service Clubs (RYSC) - a network of self-directed, extracurricular youth service clubs aimed at secondary and university students between 14-24 years of age. The school’s club is running an initiative related to the awareness and conservation of dugongs in Qatari waters. ExxonMobil Qatar is RYSC’s platinum sponsor, a strategic cooperation that was announced during a press conference and signing ceremony in late January by Mr. Alistair Routledge, President and General Manager of ExxonMobil Qatar and Mr. Essa Al Mannai, Executive Director of ROTA.

Dr. Warren began the presentation with an overview of dugong biology followed by a discussion of potential threats to their health and species viability. The focus then shifted to current research on the Arabian Gulf population, with updates on findings and future activities. This research is in collaboration with Texas A&M University Galveston, and is part of an ongoing effort developed in coordination with the General Directorate for Natural Reserves – Private Engineering Office (PEO) and the Ministry of Municipality and Environment to share findings and information about the local dugong population, with the goal of furthering a preservation plan for this unique species.

Dr. Warren explained to the group of students that important regions for dugongs in the Arabian Gulf are the United Arab Emirates (UAE) near Murawah Island and the coastal region ofSaudi Arabia between Qatar and the UAE - possibly extending to Mesaieed. Dugongs can also be found on the northwest coast of Qatar and offshore Bahrain between Fasht Al Adhm and the Hawar Islands.

“We participated in this workshop today because we want to help raise awareness of Qatar’s unique dugong species. We also want to ensure they are protected and continue to live unhindered in their natural habitat,” said Dr. Warren. “Education is one of the most important tools in the long-term conservation of species, and by raising awareness, enhancing knowledge and encouraging people to take action, real steps can be made towards conserving this iconic species.”

“Environmental education focused on children and youth is a particularly important strategy because it's an opportunity to intervene at a key developmental stage of life and also because children can be an important influence on the environmental behavior of their immediate circle. What these young ladies are doing at Al the Bayan Secondary School for Girls through ROTA is truly special and we will continue to support and help them along the way.”

Dugongs, which are large, long-living herbivorous marine mammals that consume sea grasses, can reach lengths of greater than 3 meters, weigh more than 400 kilograms and live up to 70 years. Historically, dugongs have had a cultural and economic importance to Qataris, and have had a presence in the Arabian Gulf for more than 7,500 years.

During the presentation, Dr. Warren went into great detail on the characteristics of the habitats that are important to dugong survival, which include: extensive sea grass meadows; soft bottom habitats;and warm, shallow waters. “I really enjoyed today’s presentation on dugongs – it was fascinating to me. I didn’t even know they existed before today and now I’m fascinated by them,” said Maha Al Karbi one of the students. “As a Qatari, I feel I have a responsibility to help protect this fascinating species that lives in my country’s waters, and I want to be part of the effort to make sure they are always safe and well.”

Qatar is home to the largest population of dugongs outside of Australia with two of the three most important regions in the Arabian Gulf.  As mammals with a low reproductive output, dugongs 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. The extreme marine and physical environment of the Arabian Gulf, as well as the northern limit of dugong distribution, likely means that their life-history differs from populations in Australia.

EMRQ and the PEO have held field missions to locate live dugongs off the west coast of Qatar, as part of ongoing data collection efforts to better understand the distribution, abundance and behavior of the Qatar dugong population. The field missions have resulted in video and photographic documentation of the dugongs as they traveled and fed in the area. This documentation is currently being developed into a documentary produced by Qatar TV.

EMRQ was established in 2009 to conduct research in areas of common interest to the State of Qatar and ExxonMobil, including environmental management, water reuse, LNG safety and coastal geology.  EMRQ became one of the first anchor tenants to open its doors at Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) with a research and development center that includes offices, laboratories and training facilities. EMRQ demonstrates how ExxonMobil provides the energy to support research, safety, health and the environment, in line with the Human and Environmental Development Pillars of the Qatar National Vision 2030.