“A prominent marine researcher says it is not necessary to quantify how many dugongs are being harpooned each year as part of Indigenous catches.
“Professor Helene Marsh, from James Cook University in north Queensland, says she is confident there are healthy stocks of the marine mammal in northern Australian waters.
“She says results indicate at least 40 per cent of dugongs are likely to reside in Northern Territory waters.
“Professor Marsh says there are a range of management tools that could be applied to improve the sustainability of Indigenous dugong harvesting and that working with individual coastal communities would be a far more effective way to protect the animals.
“Some communities may choose to regulate catches, some communities may choose to have closed seasons,” she said.
“Other communities may choose to have closed areas, other communities may want to you some sort of gear restrictions.”
Read more here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/02/15/2163405.htm
Ian Mott says
Given the limited population (approx 7000) of the Torres Straight region, the claimed 1000 animals killed each year does not reconcile with human food consumption patterns.
1000 animals at 300kg cleaned weight divided by 7000 people amounts to 428kg per person each year. The national average meat consumption from all types of meat is only about 120kg. Yet we are expected to believe that TS Islanders eat 3.5 times more, of a single species?
We know they also eat turtle, fish, shellfish and crustaceans. And we can be certain that they eat these other seafoods in greater quantities than the national average. And we know that pork, chicken and beef is also on the menu.
So would the people who are making this claim of unsustainable fishing of Dugong please explain how this supposedly ceremonial consumption fits into the normal diets of normal human beings? In a year with 365 days?
Ian Mott says
Correction: That is 42.8kg per person, not 428kg as stated above. And it is 35% of the national average meat consumption. But the question still remains, how can such a large volume of meat, consumed mainly on ceremonial occasions, fit into the diet of normal humans in a normal year?
>So would the people who are making this claim of unsustainable fishing of Dugong
Well Jennifer should be able to answer that for you surely.
Of perhaps more relevance is how we work towards an accepted and sustainable harvest of dugongs.
In an earlier blog post I wrote, quoting Virgina Postrel:
But the rules will be voluntarily subscribed to, allowed to evolve, and able to incorporate detailed knowledge of particulars.
…and they should not be confused with the fundamental rules that, in fact, allow such specific-purpose rules to develop.
Postrel suggests that respect for local knowledge and rules can avoid the tragedy of the commons:
“Grazing land and fishing sites are classic examples of commons. Economic theory predicts that such common property will be overused, since everyone has an incentive to draw as much as possible from it rather than to conserve. But Elinor Ostrom [Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge University Press, 1990] finds many examples of cooperative institutions evolving to regulate commons use effectively, to everyone’s benefit … developed through trial-and-error learning, with the rules made by the same people who must abide them.”
Helene Marsh would fit Postrel’s definition of a dynamist?
>Of perhaps more relevance is how we work towards an accepted and sustainable harvest of dugongs.
Professor Marsh does not state that the current harvest of dugongs is unsustainable or unacceptable (unacceptable to who?). She says that sustainability could be improved and that catch regulation is critical, but she also says the populations in the GoC/NT are healthy.
Helen Mahar says
Both Professor Marsh and Jennifer refer to bottom up, or grass roots approaches to conservation, whose time has not yet come. This I know from experience.
Over two decades ago we were having problems with a Government conservation agency with an agenda (which was exceeding powers) for our property. On being made aware that some of the stuff on our property was very rare, we decided to take a look at it to see if it could be protected. Taking into account its proximity to areas of the property frequented by mainly locals, we decided that it was physically possible to protect it, and thus worth trying.
But the above agency needed to adjust their agenda. The resulting conflict went on for some years. The end result being the implementation of our protection strategy, which has been successful, but at social and financial costs to us.
The regulatory, top-down approach is broad-brush and simplistic, with scant willingness / ability to take local factors into account. Round pegs get hammered to fit square holes. Yet, for conservation programmes to work long term, they depend upon bottom-up, local knowledge and committment, especially from the owners of the land / property right (to hunt).
In the case of dugongs, local strategies could be implemented without prior head counts. But, judging by the continuing calls for top-down regulatory conservation, the time has not yet come for supporting bottom-up local strategies.
Ian Mott says
Why I am not an Onanist.
This “tragedy of the commons” line is widely believed but had little substance in fact. Most of the British commons had long established, locally developed, rules and customs as to their use. They were policed by other users of the common. And these rules worked sufficiently well enough to maintain them in such condition as to make them a highly desirable acquisition for the land barons of the 18th Century. The rest is history.
And this argument over appropriate regulation of the Dugong harvest is entirely premature.
The Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment spells out what circumstances must exist for the implementation of regulatory measures by placing the “precautionary principle” in proper context.
The precautionary principle has a number of parts, the first being to state that it applies, “where there are threats”.
It does not apply where there are no threats. And the clear meaning is that a vague and distant possibility is not a threat.
The second part goes on to qualify the nature of the threat that it is to apply to. That is the threats must be of “serious or irreparable harm to ecological systems”.
So a minor threat, say, to a single Dugong, is not a threat to the ecological system in which dugong play a part. And it follows that as long as the “harm” is reparable, ie, the population of Dugong is maintained by subsequent generations of young, or the population has not declined to a point where recovery (repair) is no longer possible, then the principle does not apply.
The third part deals with the probability of harm when it states that “the absence of absolute certainty of harm should not be used as an excuse for postponing measures to prevent harm”.
This latter part has been grossly abused by the green movement. It has been quoted in isolation to justify any and every blank cheque that masquerades as an environmental regulation.
There is a very wide chasm between the lack of “absolute certainty of harm” and the “reasonable and realistic probability of harm” that must underly all actions by public officials.
The grounds for appeal in Judicial Review make it clear that all actions must have a reasonable justification. So the question of the need for regulation of the traditional Dugong harvest must rest on the proponents of any measure being able to establish at least a very strong case that;
1 a threat is real, not a mere possibility, and
2 the threat is serious and or irreparable, and
3 the measures designed to counter that threat are both cost effective and proportionate to the character and scale of that threat.
But at this stage, all we have is a lurid headline by Jennifer, made as a by-product of her
whaling campaigning, that the Dugong harvest is a “slaughter”. The clear implication of the use of the word slaughter is that killing is taking place on a large scale and in a systematic and concentrated manner.
This implication is directly at variance with the facts. Dugong harvesting is done for ceremonial purposes by widespread individuals in a number of island communities, in a sequence of single incidents, that are dispersed in time and circumstance, not least of which is the Dugong’s desire to not be caught and the frequency of the islanders need for ceremony.
To describe it as a slaughter is wrong and misleading.
The size of the human population involved, and the physical upper limits of reasonable human meat consumption, make it highly unlikely that Dugong are being harvested in the numbers being claimed (circa 1000/year).
And Prof. Marsh has made it clear that the stocks of Dugong are healthy. Consequently, there is no evidence of a threat of serious or irreparable harm to these populations. And, consequently, there is no current justification for an imposed system of regulation.
At this stage there is a clear need to encourage the communities involved to actively monitor the dugong stocks and compile high integrity records of harvesting activity, including season, age class, sex and location of animals taken.
And I am certain that most TS Islanders would take the view that it is time the urban spin merchants took their emotive double agendas and onanistic rationalisations and crawled under an appropriate pile of demolishion rubble.
Professor Helene Marsh’s claim that she is “confident there are healthy stocks of the marine mammal in northern Australian waters” seems to be at odds to the International concern and subsequent funding to protect the species by our own Commonwealth Department of Environment.
Internationally, dugong are listed on Appendix I of the Conservation of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (the CMS).
Dugongs are protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999, which lists dugong as marine and migratory species. Dugong are subject to a range of human threats including entanglement in shark, mesh and gill nets, loss and degradation of important habitat such as seagrass meadows, and collisions with boats.
If indigenous fishing is taking over a 1,000 per year according to IUCN/UNEP Status that is the Department major reference, then addressing these other threatening processes may only be of little value.
However the Australian taxpayer actively addressing these other ‘threats’, in 2003, marine debris was listed as a Key Threatening Process under the EPBC Act and plans were rewritten.
However what would be the reaction from the Australian Vice President of the IUCN and the Wilderness Society if the Tasmanian Government decided there was no need to worry about the Wedge tail eagle as there are healthy stocks throughout Tasmania (86% of 1750 breeding population).
Perhaps we need Professor Marsh’s to visit Tasmania and advise on the management of the State’s EPBC listed marine and migratory species.
Travis and Ian,
Some of my files with technical papers that have been in storage should arrive on Tuesday. Then I will hopefully find the papers co-authored by Helene Marsh in which I believe it is suggested that the harvest in north Queensland/Torres Straits is/was 10 times the sustainable limit.
The situation in the Northern Territory appears to be quite different.
And of course a bottom-up approach is not incompatible with understanding the size of the harvest!
I am surprised everyone is so quick to make judgement when we know so little about the populations and size of the harvest.
PS And Travis appears no longer interested in the precautionary principle.
PSS I never have been, but am concerned about the numbers reportedly harvested given the ecology of the animal.
The IUCN action plan may be the report Jen is searching her archive boxes for, this report is the one I refered to in my earlier post and is available at http://www.tesag.jcu.edu.au/dugong/
The report includes “In the Western Islands of Torres Strait, the dugong harvest in the 1990s has been estimated to be on the order of 1000 per year (Marsh et al. 1997a)”.
as well as for Torres Strait the comment “There has been disquiet about the sustainability of
Indigenous dugong catches by communities of Torres
Strait since the early 1980s (see Johannes & MacFarlane 1991; Hudson 1986; Marsh 1986; Marsh et al. 1997a and b).
Of particular concern is the increase in the availability of outboard-powered boats, which might be expected to improve the effective hunting effort. There is no evidence to support or refute this assertion.”
The file is quite a big one but does provide detailed discussion on the issue.
I am perplexed about the dugong population situation and sustainability.
There appears to be some concern a few years ago that Torres Strait population were not sustainable in the long term.
Some of these accounts have closley studied detail of the hunting regime.
The above account shows that dugong are utilised much more than on ceremonial occasions, and provides quite a few hunt parameter statistics.
Unsustainable harvest of dugongs in Torres Strait and Cape York (Australia) waters: two case studies using population viability analysis
Robert Heinsohn a1c1, Robert C. Lacy a2, David B. Lindenmayer a1, Helene Marsh a3, Donna Kwan a3 and Ivan R. Lawler a3
a1 Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University, Canberra A.C.T. 0200 Australia
a2 Department of Conservation Biology, Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Center, Chicago Zoological Society, Brookfield, IL 60513, USA
a3 School of Tropical Environment Studies and Geography, James Cook University, Douglas, Townsville, 4811and CRC Torres Strait, P.O.Box 772, Townsville 4801, Australia
A significant proportion of the world’s remaining dugongs (Dugong dugon) occur off northern Australia where they face various anthropogenic impacts. Here, we investigate the viability of two dugong meta-populations under varying regimes of indigenous hunting. We construct population viability analyses (PVAs) using the computer package VORTEX and published estimates of population sizes and hunting rates. In Torres Strait between Cape York and New Guinea, our models predict severe and imminent reductions in dugong numbers. Our ‘optimistic’ and ‘pessimistic’ models suggest median times for quasi-extinction of 123 and 42 years, respectively. Extinction probabilities are also high for eastern Cape York Peninsula. We demonstrate the inadequacy of reserves when harvest rates in neighbouring areas are high, identify the maximum harvest rates for meta-population stability and emphasise the urgent need for indigenous community involvement in management to establish sustainable rates of dugong harvest in these regions.
(Accepted April 29 2004)
However there seems to be some implications of new information in the CRC task web site.
Review and refinement of most appropriate coordinated & cost-effective methods and priorities for determining dugong population numbers and distribution in Queensland and the Torres Strait (A4.2)
Task leader: Professor Helene Marsh and Dr Ivan Lawler, James Cook University
The waters of northern Australia are internationally recognised as the stronghold of the dugong (Dugong dugon), which is listed as vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN (2000). Significant populations persist in Australian waters, and dugongs are specifically cited as one of the World Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
Dedicated aerial surveys of dugong populations in eastern Australia have been commissioned by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Queensland Environmental Protection agency and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and carried out by James Cook University since 1984. Results of the latest aerial surveys indicate that dugongs move over greater distances and in larger numbers than previous thought. Therefore, and in the light of this new information, it is proposed that the issue of estimating dugong populations within eastern Australia be further explored at a workshop by engaging other agencies, such as Environment Australia, National Oceans Office, AFMA, QEPA, CALM and NTPWS to determine the most coordinated and cost-effective way in which to assess these populations.
So a bit of an amateurish smorgasbord of bits and pieces from me but I don’t understand the current expert opinion. Perhaps the issue of sustainability is variable dependent on location around the Australian coastline. But do we really know how well populations are really doing?
P.S. Some great dugong herd pictures.
and species background
Cinders, Thanks for the link.
Ian, Problems with your assumptions – I’ve heard of instances where dugongs are killed for fun by young men and not eaten (an instance where 22 were left to rot in North Queensland)and the harvest in the Torres Straits may include PNG residents.
Ian Mott says
I don’t have any problems with questioning my assumptions, but it is helpful if this is by way of fact rather than anecdote.
And the same can be said of the IUCN Action Plan which gives us such vague and indeterminate crap as, “There has been disquiet about the sustainability of Indigenous dugong catches by communities of Torres Strait since the early 1980s”. Disquiet by whom? Is it suggesting whole communities have expressed the disquiet, or is it merely a reference to the communities catching Dugong? Is the mere presence of disquiet, ie, a vague foreboding, on the part of the (temporary)resident planet pimp, or a sequence of them, to be given the same status as a detailed survey?
And some of the experts named in that list have zero credibility based on their work in other areas that I have detailed knowledge of. The probability of the estimates (based on modelled outcomes) having any serious affinity with the facts is very low.
And Luke’s post with the advice that Dugong move over a much wider range than previously thought would appear to render the two modelled studies, and their “quasi-extinction” periods of 123 and 42 years respectively, completely redundant.
Whenever any sort of “earth scientist” gives an “optimistic” and “pessimistic” projection one can reasonably assume that what they really did was one projection with outrageous overstatement and another that is pure fantasy.
I look forward to be proven wrong.
The Kwan paper is exactly the sort of information I was looking for, with apparent consumption per capita of 106kg/year (290gm/day) in a population of 179 people, but based on an estimated mean “dressed weight” from another source of only 115kg per animal.
Issues of interest are;
1 The representativeness of Mabuig Island, given the small land area compared to larger islands with higher reliance on gardens etc.
2 The extent of informal barter between islands that locals were unwilling to divulge to a visiting researcher.
3 the actual amount of available meat from each Dugong. A mean of 115kg would seem to indicate a mean live weight of 250kg for a species that can grow to 400kg live weight. This would suggest that smaller females are included in the catch and a simple shift to confine hunting to males only may improve breeding rates.
4 the current use of offal and other bi-products. Are there ways that this could be added to the local diet to improve utilisation and thereby reduce the numbers caught.
5 the scope for introducing fertilisers and correcting trace element deficiencies to seagrass beds to improve nutritional value of pasture and Dugong carrying capacity. This can have a major bearing on female fertility and infant survival rates and the shallowness of beds used by Dugong lends itself to this sort of augmentation, provided appropriate application levels can be determined.
Experience with land based herbivorous mammals indicates that five to ten fold increases in animal density can be maintained, particularly in circumstances (like this) where water shortages are not an issue. No other “species protection” measure, and certainly not restrictive regulatory measures, can deliver this sort of improvement in animal carrying capacity.
The last couple of posts show the need for real evidence that species are in fact threatened with extinction or not. The political conservation movement have used “threatened species, endangered status etc to campaign to stop development, and close down existing industries. It’s happened in the forest industry time and again, the latest attempt was the Wielangta Federal Court decision based on the swift parrot, a beetle and the Wedge tailed eagle.
Yesterday, the multi million dollar Meander Dam that will drought proof the region and irrigate the central north food bowl, was finally opened after initially being stopped due to the alleged presence of a endangered plant Epacris exserta. [Federal court action was withdrawn by the conservation pressure group when a scientific expert came forward to state the plant was not that variety as claimed but one that was common and not on any endangered list]
Claims of the dugong being critically endangered saw dugong protected areas established off the Queensland coast in the late 1990s costing 38 fishing operations with consequential job losses. These were expert fishers but were thrown on the unemployment scrap heap as they were middle-aged and had little formal qualifications outside fishing. They lived in rural areas where unemployment was very high and with no real alternative jobs.
So it is very surprising that Helene Marsh is now defending not obtaining evidence on this threatening process which might be having a bigger impact than gill net fishing.
Some may recollect that this marine expert currently employed as a specialist adviser to both the IUCN and the Federal Government was warned by the IUCN that she and may have ‘engaged in misconduct by falsely asserting a decline in the dugong population and disseminating misleading information.’
Whilst Professor Marsh effectively and convincingly denied this accusation and publicly explained her position she did point to ‘pressure groups’ for the misleading information ( see http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/ockham/stories/s28996.htm ), comments made in this discussion appear to support the need for more peer reviewed evidence.
Ian Mott says
Some good points there Cinders. But in relation to the need to present options rather than a single finding, we need to remember that the IPCC presented a range of projections with only the most conservative having any affinity with reality. The presence of the other “scarenarios” served to portray the one realistic one as being “off the mark” and loading the unrealistic ones in the middle with a credibility they never deserved.
To remove any doubt, Prof Marsh was not the person of dubious credibility I was refering to in my above post.
But to continue on from her discussion, we should also remember that the funding body, usually a government department, has a very highly developed capacity to misinform the public through the simple expedient of failing to provide the funding needed to find the truth.
The NSW governments failure to embrace satellite technology in determining the extent and composition of vegetation clearing in that state over more than a decade is a good example. And the Qld governments failure to distinguish between clearing of remnant grassland and clearing of remnant forest, thereby allowing the public to believe that all remnant clearing was forest clearing, is another.
It is the contemporary equivalent of Lord Nelson holding the telescope up to his patched eye so he couldn’t see the signal to withdraw at the battle of Trafalga.
The only intelligent response is, check every last figure and validate every assumption because if it is funded by government it is more than likely to include bull$hit.
Ian, you are spot on to warn of the need for critical evaluation of reporting, especially those used in the politics of conservation. Many of the pressure groups advocating against sustainable development use such reports and government action in a way never envisaged by the original authors.
Take for example the Tasmanian Devil that has in the last decade developed the Facial Tumour that is impacting on its population. The disease was first noted in a national park in North East Tasmania and has spread to about two thirds of Tasmania, see map at http://www.dpiw.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/WebPages/LBUN-5QF86G?open
The Devil is now listed on Commonwealth and State threatened species lists due to the disease. Yet political pressure groups have used the listing to campaign against forestry despite no evidence of forestry being a threatening process or if you look at the map in the link, very little instance of the disease occurring in the NW or Southern Forests.
Yet when the Commonwealth was to assess the factory to be built in the George Town heavy industrial estate, it appointed an expert on the Devil to be part of the scientific assessment panel to assess this pulp mill.
Pressure groups have recently labelled Peter Garrett, the Federal Minister for the Environment a coward for giving the go ahead for the site establishment of this factory and have claimed that endangered species will be decimated. This is despite and independent expert panel of scientists advising the Federal Minister.
Ian Mott says
Yes, Cinders, these “listings” are being used as an excuse to avoid any burden of establishing a proper case of harm. And as you have indicated, the mere presence of a listed species in a location, be it ever so transient, is used as a pretext to halt the most benign of developments.
Often it only takes a mere “reported sighting” by an unqualified observer, which is then referenced in another more credible source, and the sighting is treated as being confirmed by the subsequent author.
And of course, this reporting of “threats”
and adverse impacts does not come with an equal requirement to consider any beneficial outcomes from the same activity. In the mind of your average green goon, no impact of human kind can possibly be beneficial to wildlife. For them to believe otherwise is to deny their very raison d’etre.
This planet pimp protection racket mentality can often intrude into the research field where studies only extend to the reduction of adverse impacts when much more effective and economical measures like improving the nutrition of food stocks at critical times can make a much greater contribution to long term species survival.
There are, for example, some breathtakingly stupid “protection” prescriptions in the NSW Native Forest Harvest code that will actually seriously degrade the very habitat quality they claim to be maintaining. I won’t mention them here because I’m saving them up for a judge at a time and place of my choosing.
How did we get back to the Pulp Mill so quickly on a dugong?
What a great question, you might have to ask the Chief Scientist or the former Minister for the Environment.
Ian Mott says
The common thread, Gavin, is green deception and official corruption. Pay attention, you might learn something.
I do not agree with prof marsh’s claim that there is no need to validate the estimated dugong harvest in TS. In just about every area of public policy that involves natural resource management, one can be certain that a broad estimate by the designated experts is an overstatement. If this estimate on Dugong harvest is anywhere near the mark then it will be an exception.
There has been far too much systematic deception over the past two decades for anyone who is vulnerable to this system to take any official position on trust.
The Islanders themselves need to collect this data and ensure that it is of the highest integrity. They have the resources, their own time, and they have the closest links to those actually doing the hunting. There is only 20 inhabited islands so they only need 20 of their own people to undertake this task. At Mabuig it only involved collecting 160 to 170 sets of data each year and on most other islands the harvest would be less. If they let anyone else do it they WILL suffer.
Jennifer on behalf of a Reader says
Apropos this comment of yours:
“Some of my files with technical papers that have been in storage should arrive on Tuesday”
Most, perhaps all, the information that you need regarding the issues you’ve raised can be found in the pdfs on Helene’s site:
The refereed literature is under “journal papers” – main ones are 2 in
2004 (Heinson et al, and Marsh et al) and one in 1997 – Marsh et al.
There’s stuff in the “Technical Reports” section too.
Jen – I think you need to ask Helene Marsh’s up-to-date advice. From my perhaps naive reading of the literature there was some published concern about long term viability a few years ago. But the “tone” at least now seems to be backing away from that, or is it a regional issue? Am I reading too much into it?
Health of the seagrass beds from terrestrial runoff is another mooted factor.
But given you’ve raised dugong as a possible issue of our own hypocrisy vis a vis whaling ethics and sustainability I reckon you should attempt to chase it down as far as possible with our local domain knowledge experts.