Posted on November 30, 2015

A workshop on the Arabian Gulf Dugong Population was held on November 30 as part of a collaboration agreement between Qatar University (QU), ExxonMobil Research Qatar (EMRQ), and Texas A&M University at Galveston (TAMUG).  

It was hosted by QU College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences (DBES) and attended by CAS associate dean for research and graduate affairs Dr Ahmed Ahmedna, EMRQ research director Dr Jennifer Dupont, TAMUG Department of Marine Biology associate professor Dr Christopher Marshall, DBES professors and students, in addition to representatives of the General Directorate of Natural Reserves Private Engineering Office (PEO), Ministry of Environment, Coast Guard and Qatar Petroleum

The aim of the workshop was to share findings and information about the local dugong population, threats to its habitat and future survival.  It was also intended to advance dialogue on current research being conducted on the dugong population in the Arabian Gulf as well as a preservation plan to address the challenges facing this unique marine mammal. It followed from a 2-day workshop on dugongs held in October 2014 as part of the agreement signed in July of that year by EMRQ, QU and TAMUG to further environmental research and marine mammal initiatives relevant to Qatar.

In her remarks, CAS dean Dr Eiman Mustafawi said:  “We’re extremely pleased to host this joint research activity which embodies the success of the agreement signed between QU, EMRQ and TAMUG. This workshop tackles a serious environmental issue in the country and aims at supporting one of CAS’ strategic objectives to empower and engage its students during their college experience by building their academic and practical capabilities to support QU in its endeavor to become a model national university in the region and promote Qatar National Vision 2030.

Qatar University EMRQ and TAMUG 2 [qatarisbooming.jpg

Dr Mustafawi stated further: “Human activities such as commercial hunting threaten local dugongs due to the fragile nature of its life cycle and its reliance on seaweed habitats and we hope that this workshop finds new approaches towards preservation of the dugong species”. “We are delighted to be working with Qatar University and Texas A&M University at Galveston to conduct research on Qatar’s dugong population, and to have the opportunity to share these findings at this comprehensive workshop,” Dr Dupont said.

Adding, “It is very rewarding for us as scientists and researchers to study these fascinating creatures so closely. We are committed to understanding more about the dugong species, so we can help protect this rare species in its natural habitat, with the support of the General Directorate for Natural Reserves – Private Engineering Office (PEO) and the Ministry of Environment.” Dr Marshall said: “It’s a privilege to work with such strong and committed local partners ExxonMobil Qatar and Qatar University as we study these unique and fascinating animals. We all share the same vision – to understand as much as we can about the dugong population in the Arabian Gulf and in Qatari coastal waters to ensure they are protected and continue to live unhindered in their natural habitat.”

Dugongs 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 60 years.   Qatar is home to the largest population of dugongs outside of Australia. Historically, dugongs have had 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.  As mammals with a low reproductive output, dugongs are listed as Vulnerable to Extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.  In Qatar,   unfortunately, they face challenges due to incidental fishing, habitat degradation, and other threats.