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  Bangkok Post 14 Feb 07
First aerial survey to map dugong numbers

Apinya Wipatayotin

The first aerial survey of marine life along the Gulf of Thailand coast will begin next week.

The 10-day operation will focus on the dugong population and the condition of the seagrass bed, the animal's only food, Marine and Coastal Resources Department chief Nisakorn Kositrat said.

The project, jointly implemented with the Foundation for Preservation and Development of Thai Aircraft, will last from Feb 19 until 28. The foundation will provide two aircraft along with senior pilots. The department will send marine experts to collect information.

The operation will cover 350 kilometres of coastal area in Chon Buri, Rayong, Chanthaburi and Trat provinces, said Mrs Nisakorn. Information obtained from the survey would be used in the drafting of a national plan for marine species conservation.

''Our marine experts usually use research vessels or boats in survey operations, which is time-consuming and gives us only limited information,'' she said. ''The aerial survey will help us to gain data on a wider scale in a shorter period.''

Experts will plot the positions of marine species found during the survey and use a global positioning system (GPS) to track the creatures down later on.

In the first stage, the operation will focus on dugongs and the seagrass bed.

If successful, the project will be expanded to other animal species and marine resources, including sea turtles, mangrove coverage and coastal erosion, said Samran Gesorn, the project's chief pilot.

There are few dugongs left in Thai waters, including the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. A recent departmental survey found the number had increased from 126 in 2005 to 128 last year, a much-needed boost to efforts to preserve the rare creature and the seagrass bed.

There are 500 square kilometres of seagrass bed in the Andaman Sea, and only 25 sq km in the Gulf of Thailand.

The foundation is provindg two fixed-wing planes with quiet engines which will not scare the animals away. Established by Group Captain Veerayuth Didyasarin, the foundation maintains old aircraft for use in non-profit activities.

Last year, it helped the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment collect data and map out forest fire locations in Chiang Mai. It also plans to work with the ministry on an aerial study of land erosion, for use in a national erosion prevention plan.

You CAN make a difference for Singapore seagrasses
Join TeamSeagrass, a volunteer effort in Singapore to monitor our very own seagrasses.

Related articles on Global marine issues and seagrasses
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