Lack of diversity exposes dangers to future of New Caledonia’s dugong

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A new study of New Caledonia’s dugong has found its population to be the least diverse in the world.

Conservationists said this reinforces the need to act quickly to protect the sea cow’s surviving population from extinction.

The article was led by New Caledonian scientific groups and James Cook University in Australia who compared the DNA between the Dugong in Australia and the world to the New Caledonian population.

He showed that the genetic makeup of the two populations was very different and points out that the individuals did not travel between territories.

Photo: 123RF

This means that groups of dugongs from different parts of the world could not be mixed if the number in Caledonia reached a historically low level, due to the too great genetic difference.

There are currently 700 to 800 marine mammals in New Caledonia.

These genetic differences have huge implications for the conservation of New Caledonia’s dugong population, said Global Fund spokesperson in Noumea, Marc Oremus.

“These studies show that we cannot count on Australian Dugongs to repopulate New Caledonian waters if it were to become too low.

“It is absolutely necessary to take stock of the state of the species and to put in place measures that annihilate the dangers facing the population.

“The study shows that we are at high risk of losing the population in the short term and forever,” Oremus said.

The dugong is classified as a vulnerable species but the low numbers in New Caledonia could be a lever to classify the species as endangered by scientists.

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