Dugongs have become functionally extinct in China, a new study said on Wednesday. Since 2008, the marina animal hasn’t been spotted anymore in Chinese waters.
Research by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said ships, fishing and human-caused habitat loss have seen the number of dugongs decrease rapidly in China in the last fifty years.
Dugongs have lived in Chinese water for hundreds of years. A team of international researchers carried out interviews in 66 fishing communities across Chinese provinces along the South China Sea coast. In the last fourteen years, there has been no sight of the animals.
“This is the first functional extinction of a large mammal in China’s coastal waters,” the study said. Humans have rapidly destroyed the dugong’s habitat, whose diet is mostly seagrass.
“Their absence will not only have a knock-on effect on ecosystem function, but also serves as a wake-up call,” Samuel Turvey, professor at ZSL, said. He called the disappearance of dugongs in China a devastating loss.
Worldwide, the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the animal as vulnerable. Dugongs live in the shallow coastal waters of the western Pacific and Indian oceans.