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Protecting the 'koalas of the marine world'

One of Australia’s most culturally significant native animals will be the subject of a public lecture at JCU this week.

First published 28 May, 2012

One of Australia’s most culturally significant native animals will be the subject of a public lecture at James Cook University this week.

Distinguished Professor Helene Marsh will present The Challenge of Conserving Dugongs in Townsville on Thursday, March 31.

Professor Marsh's talk is part of JCU’s Public Lecture Series, hosted by the Faculty of Science and Engineering.

The series showcases JCU’s research to the community and is designed to inform, educate and entertain residents about current science and engineering issues.

Professor Marsh has been studying dugongs for more than 30 years.

She is the senior author of a recent book published by Cambridge University Press on the ecology and conservation of the dugong and its manatee cousins.

In this lecture, Helene will compare the challenge of conserving dugongs in developed countries such as Australia with the situation in low-income countries and regions where dugong conservation can be a matter of food security and cultural survival.

Professor Marsh said dugongs were like ‘marine koalas’.

“Australia is their stronghold and they are culturally significant to Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, yet even here their status is geographically variable and controversial,” she said.

“Dugongs live in the coastal waters of about 40 subtropical and tropical countries ranging from East Africa to Vanuatu.

“Many of these countries are among the poorest in the world and the income from the delicious meat of a dugong represents several months of income for a poor fisher.”

Professor Marsh said dugong populations were threatened by multiple global problems.

“They are symbols of fierce conservation battles and landmark court cases involving two US Secretaries of State.

“Steller’s sea cow, their nearest relative and the largest mammal to exist other than the great whales, was exterminated by humans in the 18th Century, a stark reminder of the dugong’s vulnerability to human threats.”


Professor Helene Marsh is Distinguished Professor of Environmental Science and Dean of Graduate Research Studies, James Cook University

Helene Marsh has an international reputation in marine conservation biology, marine protected area management, Indigenous marine resource management, interactions between people and place in tropical regions, and marine wildlife population ecology. She has won several prestigious international prizes for her research. Professor Marsh’s research has had substantial impact in Northern Australia and the tropical world, particularly in conservation policy and cross-cultural research. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological and Engineering Sciences.

Event details:

Date: Thursday, May 31, 2012

Time: 5.30pm for a complimentary drink and nibbles, lecture starts at 6.00pm.

Place: Sir George Kneipp Auditorium, James Cook University, Townsville.

For more information contact: Kiara Cantamessa, Marketing & Events Assistant, tel: (07) 4781 5179 or mobile 0419 547 797, Email: kiara.cantamessa1@jcu.edu.au

For interviews or photographs: Professor Marsh can be contacted on (07) 4781 5575

JCU Media contact: Caroline Kaurila (07) 4781 4586 or 0437 028 175.