|Town/Region||Sibu Island, Tinggi Island|
|Categories||Habitats, Mammals, Marine|
|Date||26 May 2020|
We have conducted field surveys from 2016 to 2018 to collect spatio-temporal data on the foraging activities of the endangered dugongs (Dugong dugon) in the Sibu-Tinggi Archipelago. Throughout this sampling period, we have observed that dugong sightings have become increasingly rare and seagrass habitats reducing in extent an abundance. With so little known of this elusive marine mammal, particularly their population size, movement, habitat use and habitat extent, there is hence an urgent need to fill up these knowledge gaps, in which data collection is impeded due mainly to the existing costly field survey methods.
This study aims to fill up the knowledge gaps by experimenting the potential of transforming data acquisition through traditional aerial survey, i.e. occupied aircraft, into using unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) to facilitate long-term monitoring and conservation efforts especially in a developing country, in which field surveys are often impeded by high cost, time and risk exposures. This project, thus, aims to determine the dugong population estimates and their use of the seagrass habitats in the Sibu-Tinggi Archipelago. It is expected that the study will (1) determine the density and distribution of dugongs in their habitats, (2) identify the visual hotspot areas, and (3) elucidate the main overlapping areas between the visual hotspots, core foraging grounds and human activities.
Through our previous study on dugong spatial foraging ecology, we were able to identify their core foraging grounds in addition to the areal size and distribution of seagrass habitats. Thus, we will be using this information to conduct mid-range systematic aerial drone surveys to obtain a population estimate and movement behaviours data of the dugongs, covering areas within and outside of their core foraging grounds. In the Sibu-Tinggi Archipelago, dugong populations are still threatened by human activities such as entanglement in gill nets. As such, we will also investigate whether human activities are prevalent in dugong hotspot areas.
Long-term wise, we will test the optimal drone operating procedures aimed to provide a more accessible gateway in developing a spatiotemporal database of dugong population size and habitat utilisation patterns, which in turn will contribute to more effective conservation planning.
Read about Harris's previous project https://www.rufford.org/projects/wei_khang_heng or for more information contact: