Dugongs – The Mermaids of East Timor

Dugongs – The Mermaids of East Timor

The dugong is a large marine mammals which together with the manatee are part of the order of Sirenia. The sirenians are actually closer related to elephants than any other sea life. The average size they grow to is around 3 metres in length and one this size can be expected to weigh 420kg! They also have a long life scan and can reach 70 years old.

dugong secret garden

Dugong at Secret Garden

Dugongs are shy, gentle creatures and are usually solitary so finding one on a dive is usually rare but wonderful when it does happen. When you are lucky enough to encounter a dugong remember to respect its space and as with all marine life, look but don’t touch.

Most dugongs will tend to ignore divers and continue with their grazing on sea grass so there’s no need to chase or harass them. They are mammals so like whales and turtles will have to return to the surface every so often for a breathe so obviously be safe and don’t  follow them up and back down as a zig zag profile will increase your chance of decompression Illness even at the relatively shallow depths of 10m. Just stay still, calm and enjoy the amazing experience.

Don’t expect an amazing viz dive as the dugong loves the sandy bottom and will often silt up, making underwater photography of these amazing creatures a little more difficult.

The Lady of the Sea

The name dugong originates from “Lady of the Sea” and dugongs are believed to be the inspiration for the mermaids that early sailors spoke of.

They are found in warm coastal waters from the western Pacific Ocean to the Eastern coast of Africa usually in protected shallow bays. The dugong feed mainly on sea grasses, they are heavily dependent on this as a source of food, so only live where sea grass grows. When sea grass is scare they are known to feed on algae and some in Australia even on small invertebrates.

Dugong numbers are decreasing

Sadly due to over fishing and destruction of their habitat the number of dugongs has dramatically decreased in recent times and are now extinct in a large number of areas they used to populate such as the Maldives, the Phillippines, Mauritus, Hong Kong, Japan, Cambodia and Taiwan. Dugongs are easy targets for hunters as they are large and slow moving so have been over hunted for their meat, oils, skin and bones.

Other threats have included entanglement in fishing and shark nets, oil spills, being hit and injured by boats or even bad storms and cyclones which can wipe out huge areas of sea grass.

They are now listed as vulnerable and due to their long lives, slow reproduction cycle and limited habitat they are sadly in great danger of becoming extinct. 

The most popular dive sites to see the Dugongs in East Timor are: Tasi Tolu, Roda Reef, Pertamina Jetty and Secret Garden.