Dugong (Dugong dugong) populations are vulnerable to a range of human-related pressures and the adverse effects of extreme climatic events on their seagrass food source.

In Western Australia’s Kimberley region, dugongs are culturally important for Traditional Owners and hunted for food, and they seek to protect and manage population health with the support of up-to-date science. Unfortunately, they are prevented from doing so by out-of-date scientific data from the last survey in 2017.

The Kimberley’s Indigenous Saltwater Advisory Group’s (ISWAG) 10-year sea turtle and dugong conservation plan (Turtle and Dugong Initiative) calls for new and ongoing, cooperatively undertaken monitoring surveys, that incorporate western science, Traditional Knowledge under Indigenous stewardship.

This project responds to this call by supporting Traditional Owners to undertake surveys now and in the future, and aims to understand how prohibitively high costs and complex logistics that beleaguer science in this remote area can be overcome.


The project’s three-pronged approach is: to fill current knowledge gaps on dugong population structure and connectivity at a range of spatial and temporal scales; monitor presence, density, movement and habitat use in identified ecologically and culturally important areas; and, develop a community-led monitoring program using small drones.

Components of the work include:

  • a collaborative research and data management agreement;
  • tracking devices attached to individual dugongs;
  • training in small drone operation and survey methods;
  • training in research methodology, data processing,
  • increased local job opportunities through implementation of project tasks ;
  • production of bilingual maps of the results; and
  • a publicly available, web-based data set.

Expected outcomes

  • Contemporary and ongoing dugong data to support regional planning.
  • Advancement of the Indigenous Saltwater Advisory Group’s (ISWAG) research agenda.
  • Dugong population data that supports marine management and restoration.
  • A better understanding of how environmental and human pressures affect dugongs.
  • New approaches to community-led dugong monitoring developed and established.

Project location