If you are snorkeling in the Red Sea around the Marsa Alam region, you have a chance to meet the dugong (Dugong dugon). It is a rare and extremely special experience to meet such a large mammal. An adult dugong is usually around 3 meters long with a weight of around 400 kg – but it can grow to 4 meters and 900 kg in its 70 years lifespan.
It is very important that you disturb the dugong as little as possible. Keep a distance, and avoid being in front of the animal. And never try to touch it! – That said – the dugong is often diving down to feed on the seagrass on 5-10 meters depth, and you can easily follow the movements and enjoy the activity. It can stay down for about 6 minutes – but usually it is only down 2-3 minutes between breaths. So, be patient and it will come up to the surface to breathe and you can lucky and get a closer look …
Dugongs are present in the entire Indo-West Pacific. But it is considered vulnerable by IUCN, and in many areas it may still be present with a few animals, but is in practical terms extinct as there are too few for them to breed and sustain a population. The female usually gives birth to only one calf, and it doesn’t leave its mother for several years. Thus, the dugong is very vulnerable for deaths among the adults – especially the female animals. The dugong is present in the Red Sea, but it is very difficult to estimate how many there are.
Often you find that the animals have scars on the body, this is a way to tell the individuals apart.
The dugongs in the Red Sea are probably not threatened by getting caught in fishing nets – they are probably more in danger of being hit by a boat propellers, disturbance from snorkelers and divers – or from loss of seagrass beds.
As long as you stay calm and quiet, and keep your distance, the dugong will keep feeding and you can enjoy it for perhaps 20-30 minutes. But if it feels disturbed, you will be surprised how fast it is actually able to swim away. No way you can keep up and follow it! 🙂
Whatever you do – behave like a Responsible Traveller …