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Libong Island


Conservation benefit: Protection of 1,000–acre dugong seagrass habitat and 26 acres of feeding grounds for migratory birds for 10 years

Community benefit: Environmental education and cultural center

Date Approved: 02.2019


This project protects seagrass, which traps more CO2 than any other marine ecosystem, slowing global warming.

It’s estimated that only 200 dugongs, the large, slow-moving marine mammals that are cousins of the American manatee, still swim in Thailand’s waters. Their numbers have declined drastically because of habitat loss and fishing practices that trap the animals in fishing gear. Dugongs are particularly vulnerable to extinction because of their elephant-like lifespan—70 years or more—and slow rate of reproduction.

More than half of Thailand’s dugongs live near Libong Island, where they graze on seagrass. The island also gives refuge to thousands of migratory birds, of almost a hundred species, every year. It is a part of a large Ramsar site (a wetland of international importance). It is home to about 1,700 people, who make their livings from small-scale fishing, growing rubber trees, and tourism.

This project will protect dugongs and their habitat, as well as educate residents and visitors. The community will:

  • Make 1,000 acres of dugong habitat a no-take area. The area is now protected by law, but enforcement is lax.
  • Prohibit fishing practices that kill dugongs (for example, use of drift, trawl, and gill nets) and create a guard team to patrol the protected area.
  • Protect migratory birds by limiting the use of three feeding grounds.
  • Educate local people and visitors on dugongs and the seagrass ecosystem.

The community will use a Seacology grant to build a Seagrass and Dugong Education Center, to showcase local environmental and cultural knowledge. Displays will include traditional fishing gear, specimens of seagrass species, a dugong skeleton, and photos of migratory birds.

Project Updates

February 2024

The effects of dredging in the Trang River in 2021, which caused extensive damage to seagrass around the island., are still being felt. Ten dugongs were found dead in 2023. A few became stranded when they went into shallow water, looking for seagrass; some died from apparent malnutrition or accidents. Others left to find seagrass in other areas. Seagrass damage also affected migratory birds; the flocks observed this year were not as large as before. Seagrass replanting efforts by academics, students, and local villagers have not succeeded. The government is working to start its own restoration project in the near future.

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June 2023

There has been no dredging this year. Villagers patrol dugong habitat and have banned destructive fishing gear, but some dugongs still die from becoming trapped in fishing nets. Migratory birds are well protected; they are not hunted, and their protected habitats provide enough food. Local people report that fishing is actually better than before the pandemic. The environmental center is approximately 85% built.

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February 2023

The committee in charge of this project has worked to make the new environmental center of interest to visitors who are interested in dugong, seagrass, and bird conservation. Local people are careful that fishing and tourism do not disturb the migratory birds, which attract many visitors.

Populations of several species of short-leaf seagrass have recovered from the disruptive dredging and are thriving, but the major long-leaf species have not yet recovered. There is still enough seagrass to support dugongs around the island.

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June 2022

The environmental center is nearly built, but still lacks wiring and water connections. People from a nearby school have pitched in to help with painting and cleaning.

In March, surveys of Libong and nearby islands by small airplane and drone spotted 140 to 170 dugongs, including 15 to 20 mother-and-baby pairs. They also counted 27 Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins and 140 sea turtles, which looked healthy. Surveys along the coast showed that populations of migratory sea birds are holding steady at 20,000 to 30,000.

Villagers regularly patrol the seagrass area where dugongs live. Dredging in the Trang River last year stirred up sand, which appears to have damaged 1,900 acres of seagrass. In April, Thailand’s marine department told the dugong conservation committee in Trang province that a new committee will study the consequences of dredging in the estuary. It is also charged with finding ways to prevent sand accumulation in seagrass areas.

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February 2022

Construction of the environmental center has stalled at about 85 percent complete. Libong Island has been closed since last April because of the Covid situation.

Villagers have established a dugong conservation network and volunteered for conservation work. The bird feeding grounds are well protected. The patrols also protect hives of a native giant honeybee, which pollinates mangroves. The 1,000-acre seagrass area has been demarcated and is being patrolled to prevent fishing, but dredging in the Trang River stirred up sand, which covered about 1,900 acres of seagrass in the area. In the Seacology protected area, about 10 percent of the seagrass died, and another 25 percent was degraded. The village leaders, supported by the governor of Trang Province, are urging the authorities in charge of the river to remove the sand.

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June 2021

The numbers of dugongs, sea turtles, and dolphins in the area have increased, and there were no dugong deaths in Libong or neighboring islands last year. Construction of the environmental center is almost complete; wiring and water connections have not yet been put in because of pandemic delays. Libong Island has been closed since April because of the COVID-19 situation in Thailand.

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February 2021

Villagers have established a dugong conservation network and volunteered for conservation work. The 1,000-acre seagrass area has been demarcated and is being patrolled to prevent fishing, and villagers and youth are getting seagrass conservation education.

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June 2020

Community members are very supportive of protecting the seagrass and migratory bird habitat, according to the project chairman. The feeding grounds are well protected; no one is allowed to disturb the birds, which live there from January to May. No boats are allowed in the demarcated seagrass area. Our Thailand field representative, Pisit Charnsnoh, reports that especially since the COVID-19 outbreak and restrictions, dugongs are visible around Libong Island and small islands nearby.

Construction of the environmental center is going well and should be finished this month.

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