Australia has international, national, and state obligations to conserve dugongs.

Dugongs are listed as vulnerable to extinction at a global scale by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List Categories (IUCN 2003).

In Australia, dugongs are protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 as a listed migratory species and a listed marine species and as being ‘vulnerable’ under schedule three of Queensland’s Nature Conservation (Wildlife) Regulation 2006.

Dugongs are also listed as a protected species in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations 1983.

Commercial tour operations will require a permit from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) before carrying out the activity of dugong-watching if:

  • dugong-watching is advertised
  • a spotter aircraft is used to locate dugongs for the purpose of watching the animals
  • vessels are operated in a manner to actively search for and observe dugongs.

Commercial dugong watching involves tourist vessel operations specifically targeting areas where dugongs are commonly found in order to show these animals to paying passengers.

A limit of five permissions has been set for commercial dugong watching in the Marine Park.

A Code of Practice for the Sustainable Management of Dugong and Marine Turtle Tourism in Australia has been developed by James Cook University, with input from relevant government agencies and conservation groups.

This code of practice, as well as other relevant legislation and policy, will be considered when assessing applications to conduct commercial dugong-watching.

Permits

Permit conditions of commercial dugong-watching include, but are not limited to:

  • not more than three vessels (recreational or commercial) should be within a 150 metre radius of a dugong at any one time
  • the permittee must not approach a dugong closer than 50 metres while the vessel is underway or closer than 150 metres to a dugong if the vessel is moving faster than planing speed
  • the permittee must maintain a distance of 50 metres between the vessel and a dugong. If a dugong approaches the vessel closer than 50 metres, the operator must ensure their gears are in neutral and, when safe to do so, move away from the dugong at a speed of no more than four knots or ‘no wake speed’ to a distance of 50 metres
  • the permittee must not cause, or act in a manner to cause an adult dugong and calf to become separated, or individuals to become separated from a herd
  • the permittee must not herd or intercept, or attempt to herd or intercept, the direction of travel of a dugong
  • the permittee must abandon contact at signs that a dugong may be distressed or alarmed (for example: swimming at maximum speed to the point of exhaustion, dives with violent fluke slaps)
  • the permittee must ensure any participant in the dugong watching program or person aboard the vessel does not feed, touch or alarm a dugong during any interaction or likely potential interaction with a dugong
  • if the permittee accidentally harms, injures, or kills a dugong while conducting dugong watching, the permittee must report it immediately, that is while on site, to GBRMPA's Reef Recovery section or the Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing's stranding coordinator or conservation officer, and suspend all operations under the permit until the permit conditions have been reviewed. Operators should have an emergency contingency/action plan in place should an incident occur including but not limited to: identifying the extent of injury, the exact location of the incident/animal, and where safe and practical, staying with the animal until advised by GBRMPA or the Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing's stranding coordinator or conservation officer.

For more information, please contact us on (07) 4750 0700.