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Tri-party agreement to study Qatar’s dugong population

ExxonMobil Research Qatar (EMRQ), Qatar University (QU) and Texas A&M at Galveston signed a tri-party agreement in 2014, with support from the Private Engineering Office (PEO) and the Ministry of Environment, to further environmental research and marine mammal initiatives in order to address the issue of preservation of dugongs.

Dugongs are large, long-living herbivorous marine mammals found in Qatar’s coastal waters that consume sea grasses. They can reach lengths of greater than three 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. The Arabian Gulf is home to the largest population of dugongs outside of Australia with two of the three most important regions associated with Qatari waters.

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. 

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.

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