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Media Release
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage

28 March 2001

Scientific Advice Says Dugong Protected Areas Are Working

Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill today welcomed recent independent evidence showing dugong numbers in the southern Great Barrier Reef have increased since the introduction of sanctuaries in 1997.

"The preliminary results of a recent independent survey indicate the estimated size of the southern Great Barrier Reef dugong population in 1999 was 3993 compared to an estimate of 1682 in 1994," Senator Hill said.

"I understand that the increase, which is significant, may be attributed to several factors including migration and the existence of the sanctuaries.

"The data from the survey supports the location of the dugong sanctuaries. It demonstrates the sanctuaries provide increased protection for dugongs in that they consistently support a significant proportion of the dugongs in the region," Senator Hill said.

However, Senator Hill warned that there was no room for complacency.

"Dugong numbers are still too low, the southern Great Barrier Reef population is a fraction of what it was only decades ago," he said.

"A 50 per cent to 70 per cent decline occurred during the period 1986 until 1994 and yet the Federal ALP did nothing to protect the dugong," Senator Hill said.

"In contrast, the Howard Government in conjunction with the then coalition Queensland Government took steps to establish in 1997 a series of 16 dugong sanctuaries. These are the world's first dugong protected areas.

Senator Hill said the Federal Government would keep under ongoing review the need for additional measures and this would include investigations into reported dugong mortalities.

He said the increase in reported mortalities could be attributed to a number of factors including an increasing awareness among communities of dugongs leading to more diligent reporting of discoveries.

The Federal Government has taken further action to protect dugongs by increasing surveillance and enforcement measures - targeting dugong sanctuaries and other high conservation value areas.

"Rather than attacking important dugong protected areas Senator Bolkus would be better spending his time encouraging the Beattie Labor Government to implement a commitment made in 1999 to enact complementary legislation that would amend netting rules in key areas."

Wednesday, March 28
Media Contact: Belinda Huppatz 08 8237 7920 or 0419 258 364

Commonwealth of Australia