Dugong - Seagrass Conservation in Palk Bay, India

Published: 07 April 2022
Last edited: 07 April 2022
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OMCAR Foundation started for the conservation of dugongs and coastal habitats in Palk Bay. Our organization mapped the seagrass beds using acoustic technology, documented the stranding of animals for more than a decade to create awareness among fishers, and developed the policy in Government through our scientific publications and technical support. Dugong rescue and release groups (friends of dugongs) were formed at the grassroots by Tamil Nadu Forest Department with Wild Life Institute of India and OMCAR, which helped to rescue and release the dugongs from fishing nets. Additionally, omcar developed low-cost, eco-friendly seagrass restoration methods using bamboo and coconut coir ropes, which are being adapted for large-scale replication in the future. As a result of continuous effort, India's first dugong conservation reserve government order has been released in early 2022.


South Asia
Scale of implementation
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Legal & policy frameworks
Local actors
Protected and conserved areas governance
Science and research
Traditional knowledge
Species Conservation and One Health Interventions
Species Conservation Planning
One Health
Animal health
Biodiversity-health nexus
Health effects of climate change and pollution
Health related aspects of socio-economic factors such as poverty, education, social security structures, digitalisation, financing systems, human capacity development 
Loss of Biodiversity
Sea level rise
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Infrastructure development
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Physical resource extraction
Lack of food security
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Lack of technical capacity
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 14 – Life below water
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 3: Incentives reformed
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Sendai Framework
Target 2: Reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030
Target 6: Enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions for implementation of this Framework by 2030
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with associations
Indirect through consumers
Indirect through government


Velivayal, Pattukkottai, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India | Thanjavur District and Pudukottai District Coastal areas


1.  Lack of baseline information about the dugong population and their feeding habitats (seagrass beds).  So, we worked more than a decade to conduct research and documentation.


2.  Lack of awareness among stakeholders about the conservation dugongs across all levels.  So, we regularly documented the local dugong deaths, strandings and seagrass associated animals and created awareness in villages, schools and by writing popular articles in news papers, websites and social media. 


3.  There was no conservation groups in grassroot level in Palk Bay.  So, Tamil Nadu Forest Department, Wild Life Institute of India and OMCAR formed such groups in the last five years resulting successful rescue and relase of dugongs. 





6 dugongs have been rescued (2016-2021)


32000 school students 


1159 trainees of Tamil Nadu Forest Academy 


13600 fishermen 


3750 University students





How do the building blocks interact?

Creating awareness among the fisherfolks (building block 1) helped our organization to develop a good rapport with fishers. So, they participated in our seagrass mapping (building block 2) and also developed an eco-friendly and low-cost seagrass restoration method (building block 3) and dugong conservation.  It took nearly ten years to build the first three blocks.  Then, OMCAR conducted technical training for the government staff (building block 4) about seagrass restoration and dugong rescue and release and also organizes the local fishers for rescue and release of dugongs through networking (building block 5). As a next step, our organization has been working with the Tamil Nadu Forest Department for the declaration of dugong conservation in reserve in Palk Bay which is in progress.  


1.  Increased awareness among local stakeholders helped to rescue and release six dugongs (total population is estimated ~150 in Palk Bay) with the joint effort of local fishers with WII, Forest Department, and OMCAR Foundation. 

2. Low cost and eco-friendly seagrass restoration methods are helpful to involve the local community and natural materials available from the local coast for seagrass transplantation in degraded sites. The material cost of the bamboo frame was 46% lesser than the PVC frame, and the same cost of the coir frame was 102% lesser than the PVC frame. The labor cost of the bamboo frame was 47% lesser than the PVC frame, and the same cost of the coir frame was 33% lesser than the PVC frame. Thus, naturally degradable bamboo and coir nets are better, whereas the coconut coir net method is the best as it is relatively low cost, easily available, and suitable for large-scale, community-based seagrass restoration. The situation of seagrass degradation has to be further improved after the implementation of the dugong conservation reserve in the later months of 2022.  

3. Our scientific publications on seagrass mapping, seagrass restoration, and dugong stranding records support the government for the establishment of a dugong conservation reserve in Palk Bay.  



A group of fishers in northern Palk Bay went fishing like any other regular day. They are all poor fishers using shore seines in nearshore waters. They get up at the midnight and start fishing at 3 to 4 am, which includes both men and women. Suddenly they spotted a huge dugong caught in their fishing nets, which is traditionally considered a delicious food. However, these fishers attended awareness events organized by OMCAR and they are part of the "Friends of Dugongs Volunteer Group" formed by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, WII, and OMCAR partnership.  


So, they immediately called the Forest department, OMCAR, and WII team to inform them about the dugong caught in their fishing net. The teams arrived at the spot and safely released the dugong back to the sea. This incident is a sample of how the dugongs have been safely rescued and released into the sea by local fisher groups after the continuous efforts for creating awareness among the fisherfolks for dugong rescue, release, and seagrass conservation.  

Contributed by

omcarfoundation@gmail.com's picture

Balaji Vedharajan OMCAR Foundation

Other contributors

Light House Foundation
Light House Foundation
Rufford Small Grants Programme
Rufford Small Grants Programme
National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society