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The Dugong-People: Graceful Beings of the Sea

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Legend has it that dugong- and manatee-people were the inspiration for mermaids. We spend our days grazing in seagrass meadows, which gives us this perfect nickname, the sea cow! We can eat seagrass all day, eating up to 30 kilograms daily!

Due to our poor eyesight, we use physical touch and sounds such as whistles, barks, and chirps to communicate. For example, a “chirp-squeak” has a frequency of 3 to 18 kilohertz and is used for foraging and patrolling areas, and our barks also signify protective behaviors. We also have an excellent sense of smell. Our elementary olfactory system allows us to detect chemicals in the environment, other dugong-people, and delectable seagrass.

Our population in areas are indicators of how healthy the ecosystem is. Another way we assist the ecosystem is by grazing on seagrass, which helps the nutrient cycle and energy flow of the ocean floor. Seagrass seeds that have passed through our gut germinate up to 60% faster and have a higher germination chance than from the actual plant.

We have a 50-million-year-old fossil record. In Japan, we are also regarded as messengers of the sea gods. In Southeast Asia, in the Philippines and Thailand, there is a common belief that we were initially human or partly human, due to our cry if we are being harmed or stranded on the beach.

Recently, many countries have recognized our importance as we stimulate seagrass growth due to our feeding and fecal matter. Seagrass stores carbon forty times better than rainforests and plays a vital role in climate change. Twenty-three countries have joined forces to increase efforts to protect us. We are also protected under three international conservation conventions; The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS or the Bonn Convention). To further raise awareness, there have been dugong-people festivals. The first one was held in Phú Quốc, Âu Lạc, also known as Vietnam, in 2014.

To conclude the show please enjoy this Japanese folklore about dugong-people.
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