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Tracing the Trail of Mermaids in Pengudang Bintan Village

Several children were seen witnessing the preserved skeleton of a dugong at the Pengudang Seafood Festival, Bintan Regency at the end of 2022. The skeleton was intact, from head to tail.

However, the wings of the dugong bones have five fingers resembling human hands. These fingers become the attention of visitors when they see the dugong’s skeleton. “He actually has five fingers, that’s been preserved since the first time, that’s how it is,” said Yusuf, a resident of Pengudang.

The skeleton on display at the festival is that of a dugong. Because it has fingers, the dugong is increasingly trusted by residents as a dugong, a human half fish.

Yusuf said the dugong skeleton was originally excavated after several years of being buried. Then it was preserved for research purposes at a university in Indonesia. Until now, dugong bones have become an asset to Pengudang Village, Bintan Regency. “This is also proof that this village has a lot of dugongs,” said Yusuf.

Pengudang Village Dugong Habitat

Pengudang Village is located in the East of Bintan Island, Riau Archipelago Province. This village has a long beach. Besides that, it is also a place for seagrass conservation. There are at least 2,600 hectares of seagrass beds on the coast of the village in good health.

Because it has a wide seagrass meadow. This village is said to be one of the locations for the dugong ecosystem. It is undeniable that several cases of stranded dugongs, trapped in fishermen’s nets, have occurred in this village.

Hannashi, a resident of Pengudang Village who often finds dugongs in the waters of Pengudang Village. He said that in the past people found dugongs eaten, now after knowing the rules, dugongs are released or buried when they are dead.

The discovery of dugongs did not happen recently in Pengudang Village. But it was found in 1982. “When it was found it was cut by residents,” said Hannashi at the end of November 2022 at his residence.

Hannashi said that there used to be many dugongs on the coast of Pengudang Village. Once upon a time, said the 60-year-old man, a dugong cub got caught in his fishing net. After a few minutes, three dugongs approached the net. “It’s as if they want to save their child,” said Hannashi.

In the past, for the community, the entry of the dugong into the net was a disaster. This is because the fishing nets will be damaged when dugongs are caught. This condition has forced fishermen and residents to bring dugongs ashore and even sell them to find replacements for damaged nets.

As far as Hannashi recalls, he found dugongs in 2001, 2013, 2015 and 2018. “In 2001 we didn’t know the rules, the residents cut them up and then divided them up,” he said.

Finally, in 2018 Hannasi again found a dugong stranded in the waters of Pengudang Village. Almost five meters long. At that time the dugong was immediately released. “Let them go, because it doesn’t harm us either, unless the net is damaged,” he said.

People not only sell their meat, but also hunt some parts of the dugong’s organs. One of them is dugong tusks. Dugong tusks are sought after because they can treat sick babies.

The fangs are soaked and then the water is drunk or used to wash the face. “I still have one fang, someone has already made an offer, I don’t want it because I don’t know when we can get this fang,” he said.

Since 2018 Hanashi has never found a dugong again. He also said that even a few years ago a researcher diving to look for dugongs also did not see their existence.

On the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) website, dugongs are listed as vulnerable . Even in China, this rare marine mammal has been declared extinct, by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in their latest study.

Are Dugongs Still in Pengudang Village?

The large number of dugong habitats in this area has made Pengudang Village one of four regions in Indonesia that received the Dugong Seagress Conservation Project (DSCP) conservation program in 2016-2019. While the other three areas are in Toli-toli, West Waringin and Alor.

The program is the result of collaboration with LIPI, the Bogor Agricultural Institute (IPB), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the local community. The main program of the DSCP is to increase the protection of dugongs and seagrass beds in these four waters.

Marine Mammal Researchers at the Oceanographic Research Center of the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) Sekar Mira cannot confirm whether Pengudang Village is still a hotspot for dugongs or not. Even in Indonesia it is difficult to know the existence of these dugongs. “Now it’s difficult, we can no longer see directly,”.

Sekar said the DSCP program was quite successful in Bintan Regency. Since then the community has come to understand how to protect the increasingly extinct dugong. However, socialization has not yet targeted other regions. Like in Lingga District. So that there are still many buying and selling practices, even people who eat dugong meat.

The Leiden University doctoral candidate said that what is very important in keeping dugongs alive apart from socialization is law enforcement. So far, the government’s concern regarding the existence of rare animal ecosystems such as the dudong has been minimal. “This needs law enforcement, sometimes it is ignored,” said Mira.

In a study titled, “The Energy Content of Seagrass in Berakit Village and Pengudang Village on Bintan Island to Support the Existence of Dugongs” by LIPI, 2018 mentioned various threats affecting the presence of dugongs in Pengudang Village. Among them are the destruction of seagrass habitat, the existence of fishing gear, development on the coast, to pollution or sea pollution.

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