Location: Gladstone Hospital, Level 2 Maternity & Children’s ward
Artist: Katrina Elliott

March 2019

The dugong or seacow live right on our door step. These herbivorous mammals with paddle-like flippers, fluked tail and portly body can measure up to 3 metres long and sometimes weighing over 500 kilograms. Dugongs love seagrass and on average eat about 28 kilograms every day. Two of the most favourite grasses are Paddleweed (Halophila ovalis) and Eelgrass (Zostera muelleri subsp. capricorni).

A seagrass meadow is the most likely place to spot a dugong in the waters near Gladstone. Dugongs are generally sighted feeding in water that is less than 10 metres deep and protected from winds and waves. Rodds Bay to Friend Point is a special Dugong Protection Area that has restrictions on activities that are dangerous to dugongs, like net fishing.

Most dugongs mate in later winter and spring and give birth between spring and summer when the water is warmest. They are slow to mature with females aged between 7 to 17 years when they have their first calf and have a gestation period of up to 14 months. Calves feed on their mother’s milk for at least 18 months, but also start eating seagrass at a very young age. They stay close to their mothers for up to two years (or longer), usually swimming behind them and communicating with their unique sounds.

The Queensland Government’s Nature Conservation (Wildlife) Regulation 2006 lists dugongs as ‘vulnerable to extinction’, meaning they likely face a high risk of extinction in the wild in the longer term if we don’t look after them now.

Please remember that all drains lead to the ocean and that litter and pollution can degrade or kill seagrass meadows – always put your rubbish in a bin and never pour chemicals down the drain.

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