In just a few days, a team of activists will attempt to swim across Lac Lemàn in Switzerland to raise funds and awareness for the dugong species.
The Big Swim is an annual fundraiser which this year is dedicated to raise money for an SOS – Save Our Species project working to save the largest viable population of dugongs in the Western Indian Ocean – the 200 dugongs of the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park, Mozambique.
Back on lac Leman the water is busy with boat traffic and a strong current could make the swim even longer – perhaps 6 kilometres. After the first hour the body chills in the glacial water, even with the aid of a wetsuit and the summer sun to warm their backs. After almost two more hours the swimmers should arrive at their destination, tired yet elated with an appetite for a celebration drink and photograph. In the water along the way, swimming slowly and gracefully – as dugongs also do - there is plenty of time for jokes and chat but also reflection on the plight of dugongs worldwide and why they’re so special.
According to Dugong expert Dr Helen Marsh, Dugongs are special in so many ways, for example they are:
• one of only four surviving species of sea cows,
• the only herbivorous mammal that spends its whole life in the sea,
• seagrass community specialists,
• of the highest cultural value for many indigenous peoples including the Bazaruto community,
• but have a face only a mother could love!
Despite their huge range that extends from East Africa to Vanuatu, most dugong populations are under threat because of the overlap between the habitats of dugongs and coastal peoples. Recognised as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Dugong has suffered a population reduction of 30% over the last 3 generations. Specialists estimate it faces extinction within the next 40 years, if nothing is done to help it. Seagrass meadows are being destroyed, dugongs drown in fishing nets, and are hunted for food. For the Bazaruto population, before recovery there must be stabilisation and too many adult Dugongs of breeding age are still being caught in gillnets to allow numbers to grow.
The extra money raised by the Big Swim for Dugongs will go directly to the project to beef up law enforcement with extra aerial surveillance and patrol boats, confiscating and removing illegal nets found in the park while the conservation team also continue working with local communities to generate alternative livelihoods that cherish and value the Dugong for example through eco-tourism related initiatives.
A sustained and holistic effort along these lines will help secure the current population and, according to Karen Allen, Dugong project manager with SOS-grantee, EWT, every little contribution helps: “With $5,000 USD we can perform 3 month’s worth of marine patrols and 55 hours of flight time which equates to four month’s of aerial surveillance and monitoring.
To date the Big Swim has raised almost $20,000 USD through online donations sponsoring each of those nine intrepid swimmer-activists. What is more, the Big Swim’s success as a fundraiser is a great example of the positive impact people can make when rallied to a cause: whether a Big Swim or any other fun event that inspires and motivates people to make a contribution.
SOS - Save Our Species is delighted to work with anyone and everyone who is interested to become citizen conservationists and activists. So please if you want to do something and would like to fundraise for SOS, get in touch to see if we can work together and help you help us.
Remember 100% of species can be saved if we choose to do something about it. By saving our threatened species we are really saving ourselves. Will you answer the call?