Objective of the flight:

The flights objectives include the observation and recording of Dugongs and their calves in order to understand habitat use and population viability.  In addition, the flights will also enable mapping of fishing activities and threats to Dugongs. The flights will form part of a 12 month assessment of Dugong distribution and fishing pressure that will enable the EWT to suggest further areas of Special Protection where high Dugong abundance and fishing threats overlap. The flights will also augment marine patrols, and direct patrol boats onto observed threats. The flight will also record Manta rays, dolphins, sharks, and whales and share this data with the Marine Megafauna Foundation.

Report from the beneficiary:

“This survey represented a continuum of aerial surveys commencing in 1989 that were accomplished  in order to provide trends in the Dugong population in the light of the on-going mortality of animals resulting from the entanglement and drownings in gill nets set for shark capture to satisfy an insatiable Asian market.

The flights performed were in aid of a) Locating and mapping Dugong occurrence and distribution in the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park and further north to the Rio Save, and b) locating and mapping gill nets within the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park and further north to the Rio Save. The maps produced from this mission- indicating both Dugong occurrence and the occurrence of gill nets will illustrate the need for more stringent Dugong protection measures in areas where both Dugongs and Gill nets overlap, or where these are in close proximity to one another

This mission formed part of a long-term surveillance and monitoring programme, and fulfilled the EWT’s need to gain further information on the level of threats posed to Dugongs by gill nets, so that our Dugong Emergency Protection Project is able to put structures in place to mitigate these. The maps produced from this mission will be used as a tool to motivate the District Administrator of Inhassoro to support a gill net registration campaign which we hope will later lead to a substitution of these nets with other, less harmful fishing gear.”

Report from the pilot:

“Paul Dutton and I flew out of Durban King Shaka International Airport on the 22nd of September 2013 to Maputo for customs, immigration and refuelling. From there we flew to Maragra Sugar estate on the Incomati River where we were hosted by management and given a donation of R1000 to cover some of our logistical expenses.

The following day we flew coastwise to Inhambane for refuelling and proceeded to our final destination, Bazaruto Island, to commence the survey the following day, the 24th of September 2013.

Karen received us at Sitoni on Bazaruto Island which is base camp for the Department of Conservation. Logistical arrangements from Vilankulo to the islands posed a challenge but Karen had fuel for the aircraft, diesel for the camp’s generator and food for our stay already in place.

The airstrip that served the Bazaruto Lodge was 4km north of Sitoni and without land transport it necessitated a long slog when Karen’s patrol boat was unable reach the strip at low tide.

The team led by Karen established grid lines covering the inner bay from São Sebastião in the south to the Save River estuary in the north a total distance of 131 km.  On the first flight only 1 animal was sited after 3.4 hours of surveying. The following day using a different grid pattern was equally disappointing with only 2 Dugongs sightings after 3 hours of surveying.

The third day we had windless conditions and Karen, as part of her training of staff, gave up her position as observer to João Masani.  João could not speak a word of English nor I Portuguese but through hand signals he indicated that I should abandon the scientifically generated grid pattern and head off into, up until now, unexplored water further north. And there we encountered 33 dugongs after 3.7 hours of survey that day!

Checking out Wind Guru for another day of survey indicated incoming high winds and rain approaching from the south and that we had to make a hasty retreat back to Maputo and home. Karen was satisfied with the result of the survey.

We again landed at Maragra Sugar estate unable to proceed further with high wind and curtains of rain keeping us on the ground for three days in the amicable company of Dave and Allison. Finally the weather cleared with blue skies all the way to King Shaka.”