The ocean mammal, the Dugong, which was once mistaken for mermaids years ago by sailors, has officially been announced as "functionally extinct" in China. Since the 1970s, there has been a constant decrease in the Dugong dugon, and unfortunately, since 2008, there has been no evidence of the underwater animal - officially declaring it as extinct.
According to the conservation scientists from the Zoological Society of London and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who led a series of surveys and compiled historical data, they reached the sad conclusion that the animal has disappeared. The co-author, Professor Samuel Turvey, labeled the disappearance a "devastating loss" for society. "Their absence will not only have a knock-on effect on ecosystem function but also serves as a wake-up call – a sobering reminder that extinctions can occur before effective conservation actions are developed," he added.
The Dugong, also known as sea cows, are regarded as herbivorous marine mammals only consuming seagrass and can grow up to 10 feet long. The animal was once found on the coasts of East Africa to Vanuatu and the southwestern islands of Japan. But it was most likely found in parts of southern China for the past few hundred years. However, they were recognized as Grade 1 National Key Protected Animals for nearly 35 years by the Chinese State Council. Surveys were conducted in 66 fishing towns in China in order to evaluate the animal's conservation status, which ultimately led to the understanding that the species was no longer present. The research was published in the Royal Society Open Science, stating that the mammal's status should be changed to Critically Endangered - or Possibly Extinct - but that the team would "welcome any possible future evidence" stating otherwise.
In 2007, China's Yangtze River dolphin went extinct, so the news of the Dugong's possible extinction is heartbreaking. The Dugong heavily relied on seagrass as a food source and habitat, which started to decrease due to human impact. The restoration of seagrass is essential for the country as a whole, and the loss of the Dugong spotlights how important it is to develop conservation strategies for all threatened marine mammals. Stay tuned while this story develops.