Drop in Tourism Makes Space for Rare Sea Creatures in Thailand
It is rare to see a dugong, a threatened sea mammal, in southern Thailand's shallow waters. But thanks to travel restrictions that have left popular travel spots empty, a large group of them recently made their presence known.
Drone video released this week by Thailand's Department of National Parks shows about 30 dugongs off Libong island. The animals were feeding on sea grass. Every so often, they came up to the surface of the water to breathe.
Dugongs are closely related to the manatee, or sea cow. They can grow up to 3.4 meters in length. An estimated 250 dugongs live in the waters off the Thai coast. They are a protected species under Thai law.
Human activity and water pollution have made dugong sightings in southern Thailand rare in recent years. And last year, a record number of dead dugongs were found in Thai waters.
Marine scientist Thon Thamrongnawasawat said of the dugong sightings, "This species of mammal is very sensitive to speed boats and people. When they are gone, they feel free to gather in a large group and come close to shore."
The animals gained media attention last year after images spread of Thai animal doctors holding a sick baby dugong and hand-feeding her milk and sea grass. Even with such care, the baby died two months later.
An examination of her body after her death found a large amount of plastic waste in her intestines. This led to severe stomach problems and a blood infection.
Naturalists report that other rare marine animals have also been seen recently in shallow Thai waters.
Thon said there have been reports of large numbers of sharks coming unusually close to land in several places in southern Thailand. Video from park workers on Phi Phi island shows between 70 and 100 blacktip sharks in the shallow waters of the Maya Bay. The area was made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio movie "The Beach." The bay was closed to visitors two years ago for environmental recovery. The island's national park has been shut since March to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Park workers there also counted 10 to 15 false killer whales, another protected species, near the popular tourist island of Koh Lanta. It marked the first time the animals have been seen in that area.
I'm Ashley Thompson.