By Jessica Arellano

DUGONGS are shy marine mammals which spend most of their time eating seagrass on the ocean floor.

A group of them has made their home in the waters around Crab Island on the Gold Coast in Queensland.

Why they are there is a mystery, says Trevor Long, from Sea World. “Whether this is associated [with] climate change or not, it’s probably too early to tell.

“But [while] it’s really nice to see … I also find it quite concerning because that area is a high traffic area.”

Fast jet-skis, sailing boats and light planes could put the dugongs feeding in the shallow waters where the seagrass grows in danger.

Dugongs are sometimes called the cows of the sea because they graze on the grass on the ocean floor. Photo: Ahmed Shawky

Dugongs are sometimes called the cows of the sea because they graze on the grass on the ocean floor. Photo: Ahmed Shawky

Getting rid of nets

Dugongs, who are often called “cows of the sea”, can be found anywhere from Shark Bay in Western Australia, right around the northern part of Australia, and down the east coast to Moreton Bay in Queensland, but they are vulnerable to extinction.

“Nets are one of the biggest issues,” says Mr Long.

“But one of the good things is that the Queensland government has changed its shark control programs in areas such as Townsville and Rockhampton to move away from nets because they have an impact on dugongs.”

Dugongs are known to be caring and protective animals. Photo: Ahmed Shawky

Dugongs are known to be caring and protective animals. Photo: Ahmed Shawky

Seagrass in danger

The food that dugongs eat needs to be protected. But floods, pollution and pesticides used to keep insects and bugs off farm crops can kill seagrass.

“I think everyone has a role,” says Mr Long. “It’s about being a good citizen. Plastic is a huge issue and pollutants is a huge issue.”

Like to be warm

Cows of the sea

* Dugongs come from the species Sirenia, which includes manatees and the extinct Stella’s sea cow.

* Dugong mums care for their young for up to two-and-a-half years, but dads don’t really help.

* Dugongs can travel in small or large groups.

Amanda Hodgson is from Murdoch University in Western Australia and studies dugongs.

One of the reasons they move is because of changes to seagrass, she says.

“They’ve potentially been around this area [on the Gold Coast] before but maybe not very often,” says Dr Hodgson. “It’s not uncommon for them to head south.

“We don’t really know why … but their main aim is to be looking for seagrass. The other reason why they move regularly is [because] they prefer the warmer waters above about 18 or 19 degrees.”

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