Strengthening monitoring, community management, and policies for dugong conservation in Vanuatu

Photo: Big Blue Dive, Vanuatu

Project focus species

Dugong (Dugong dugon)

Dugongs are found throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Vanuatu is on the most easterly edge of their range. Despite this large range they are threatened with extinction and are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN realist of threatened species. Dugongs face threats such as by-catch in fishing gear, especially gill nets set in coastal waters, and boat strike. Dugongs are dependant on seagrass as their main food source and therefore protecting seagrass meadows is critical for dugong conservation.

Project Aims:

  • To assess the abundance of dugongs in at least four areas where dugongs are know to occur regularly.
  • Start a monitoring programme for seagrass meadows in at least 4 areas that are important for dugongs.

Project activities:

  • Seagrass Watch assessment and monitoring of seagrass beds in dugong hotspots. Seagrass is essential to the survival of dugongs as well as being important to the functioning of the coastal ecosystem. Monitoring of the seagrass beds in hotspots will give communities knowledge of the health of the seagrass beds in their area and will make it easier for them to make decisions on the management of the areas.
  • Aerial Surveys of dugong hotspot areas. Photographs will be taken from an unmanned aerial vehicle (a drone), which will fly over the dugong hotspot areas. The photographs will be assessed and the number of dugongs seen counted. This will allow the VESS scientists to assess the size of the dugong population in the hotspot area.

Outcomes of the Project

  • VESS will have the capacity to use UAVs for projects and programs to conserve threatened species and ecosystems.
  • The abundance of dugongs in at least 4 dugongs hotspot (most likely to be on Efate, Epi, Malakula and Santo) will be known and form a baseline for future monitoring.
  • The Seagrass Watch program will be established in Vanuatu with at last 4 communities (again most likely to be on Efate,Efate, Epi, Malakula and Santo) using this method to monitoring seagrass meadows in dugongs hotspot areas.
  • Dugong and seagrass conservation measures will be incorporated into community conservation plans for at least 4 Community Conservation Areas (CCAs). If there is no CCA in the dugong hotspot VESS will facilitate the establishment of the CCA in the hotspot area.
  • The committee responsible for creating recommendations for The Dugong and Seagrass Action Plan, consisting of government departments, the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, VESS and other NGO’s, will have taken into account the data from the dugong aerial surveys and the Seagrass Watch programme before making it recommendations. The recommendations will be submitted to the Vanuatu Fisheries Department, who are responsible for the National Action Plans for marine species.
  • Recommendation will have been made to include important dugong and seagrass areas in marine protected areas created under the Oceans Policy’s marine spatial planning component. The recommendations will be submitted to the Vanuatu Fisheries Department, who are responsible for the implementation of the policy for consideration.


This project is funded by the Critical Ecosystem partnership Fund (CEPF). “The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation.”


Click below to find the reports associated with this project.

Survey of dugongs using Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

Awareness raising

Seagrass conservation and Monitoring