This will be the final installment of the research updates I wrote while working in the Philippines. The main objective of the research arm of our project was to establish whether dugongs (Dugong dugon), an endangered marine mammal species related to manatees, were still present in the island group in northern Palawan where we were working. Dugongs used to be present in large numbers in the Philippines, but hunting pressure and incidental bycatch of dugongs in fishing gear has led to their decline in recent decades. Where once there were herds of 25 animals or more it is now rare to see one or two. Our task was to interview the local fishermen in different communities around Busuanga to find out what they knew about the presence of dugongs in their fishing grounds, and to discover the local attitudes towards dugongs and their conservation. This was by far the most exciting part of our conservation research, and an amazing way to get to see daily life through the eyes of families who have been living in these villages for decades or even generations.
While I heard some amazing (and recent!) stories about dugong sightings, what was amazing about these conversations was that older fishermen would consistently bring up how important they thought it was that people in the community care for the dugongs and marine life. Many fishermen said that seeing the dugongs made them happy and content, and that they were concerned about the recent decline in dugong numbers because they wanted their children and grandchildren to also know about these animals and be able to enjoy them. I was repeatedly surprised by the honesty of many of the responses we received, and the overall concern these fishermen have for the long-term health of their marine resources. With so much cooperation and support for our presence in these communities future phases of this project will now be able to directly assess the status of dugongs and their habitat in the areas of highest concern. To find out more about this and other projects conducted by Community Centred Conservation (C3) you can check out their facebook page; http://www.facebook.com/C3update, and to read my full review of the experience as well as those of others you can check out their intern review blog at http://c3experiences.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/c3-internship-review-diana-dishman-philippines-2011/. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little taste of conservation and outreach in the Philippines – PDXWildlife is hoping to kick off its own community outreach projects to help conserve our local wildlife soon, so keep checking back to see what new projects may be coming up!