More than 30 rare dugongs filmed off coast of Western Region town

The footage was taken this week by Shamsa Al Hameli on the edges of the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve, near to the town of Mirfa.

A group of about 36 dugongs were spotted and filmed in waters off the Western Region this week. Courtesy Shamsa Al Hameli
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ABU DHABI // A nature enthusiast managed to capture on film more than 30 rare dugongs, including cows with their calves, in the Western Region.

The footage was taken this week by Shamsa Al Hameli on the edges of the Marawah ­Marine Biosphere Reserve, near the town of Mirfa.

Ms Al Hameli is an environmental biology graduate and co-founder of the Abu Dhabi Marine Conservation Group, which raises awareness about rare marine animals and the need to protect them.

Taken from a drone, the video shows a group of about 36 dugongs feeding on sea grass, while people in two kayaks ­observe them.

“They were really calm, usually they keep swimming away after a while,” Ms Al Hameli said.

The Abu Dhabi resident first started recording sightings of dugongs and other rare marine creatures five years ago.

For the past four years she has used drones to film her findings, which are reported to the Environment Agency Abu ­Dhabi.

Sometimes Ms Al Hameli finds bodies of the rare animals washed up on the shore after ­being caught up in fishing nets.

Luckily, the group of dugongs Ms Al Hameli recorded this week appeared to be in good health.

Kathleen Russell, Padi course director at Desert Islands ­Watersports Centre on Sir Bani Yas Island and Al Mahara Diving Centre in Abu Dhabi, was one of the kayakers who got up close to the dugongs. She said the experience was amazing and the group was the largest she has ever seen.

“We were just in a kayak and not moving, not making any sound, not disturbing them at all,” she said.

“They were eating grass, ignoring us. During that time there was another group near by as well. It really makes you want to protect their habitat and protect the species.

“Knowing that the UAE has the largest population of dugongs outside Australia – we are really proud about that.”

About 1,500 dugongs live in the Marawah reserve. The placid mammals can weigh up to 300 kilograms. They are harmless to people and feed on sea grass.

Mrs Russell was accompanied on the kayaking trip by Ian ­Cundy and Dave Johnston, from the Nautical Archaeological ­Society in the United Kingdom, who were in the capital to teach a specialised marine archaeology course.

Nine people, mostly diving instructors, attended the three-day course organised by Mrs Russell in conjunction with Freestyle Divers. a community scuba diving centre.

Participants learnt how to survey and record sites of possible archaeological interest without disturbing them.

“It is not about finding something and bringing it up and maybe showing everybody, because by the time it gets to the surface, if it is really old, it is going to start deteriorating very quickly when exposed to air and oxygen,” Mrs Russell said.

“Along this coastline as well as the eastern coastline we know there are shipwrecks,” she said.

“As divers, if we are more vigilant, we may be able to see and report to the competent authority.

“There are not enough eyes under water to see, it is such a huge coastline and there is a lot of history under water.”