Identifying Conservation Priorities for a Widespread Dugong Population in the red sea: Megaherbivore Grazing Patterns Inform Management Planning

Abdulqader Khamis, Teresa Alcoverro, Elrika D'Souza, Rohan Arthur, Jordi F. Pagès, Junid Shah, Tareq Al-Qahtani, Ameer Abdulla Eweida

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Extensive home ranges of marine megafauna present a challenge for systematic conservation planning because they exceed spatial scales of conventional management. For elusive species like dugongs, their management is additionally hampered by a paucity of basic distributional information across much of their range. The Red Sea is home to a wide-spread, globally important but data-poor population of dugongs. We surveyed the north-eastern Red Sea in the waters of NEOM, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to locate feeding sites and determine priority areas for dugong conservation. We conducted large-scale in-water surveys of dugong feeding trails across 27 seagrass meadows that span 0.7 degree of latitude and recorded nine seagrass species and 13 dugong feeding sites. Spread over ∼4‚061 km2 of nearshore and offshore waters, many of these sites clustered around five main core feeding areas. Dugong feeding trails were mostly recorded at sites dominated by the fast-growing pioneer seagrasses Halodule uninervis, Halophila ovalis and/or H. stipulacea. Multispecific meadows with pioneer seagrasses tended to be sheltered and shallow, reflecting a similar spatial pattern to the identified dugong feeding sites. Often close to hotels and fishing harbours, these high-use dugong areas are subject to high boat traffic, fishing, and coastal development which places considerable pressures on this vulnerable mammal and its seagrass habitat. The rapidly accelerating coastal development in the northern Red Sea directly threatens the future of its dugong population. Although our sampling focuses on feeding signs in early successional seagrasses, the results are valuable to spatial conservation planning as they will trigger overdue conservation interventions for a globally threatened species in a data-poor area. Urgent dugong conservation management actions in the northern Red Sea should focus on shallow waters sheltered by coastal lagoons, bays and the lee of large islands.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105762
JournalMarine Environmental Research
StatePublished - Oct 2 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2022-10-05
Acknowledgements: This study was conducted as part of the NEOM – OCEANX Expedition (October–November 2020) funded and organized by NEOM, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ( We are grateful to all staff of NEOM, OceanXplorer ( and Cyclone ( who facilitated the surveys. We deeply thank BEACON Development Company at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for their support. Special thanks are due to Simon Paker, Thamer Habis and Mubarak Al-Jedani for their valuable assistance during field work. Abdulqader Khamis reports financial support, administrative support, and travel were provided by BEACON, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. Abdulqader Khamis reports administrative support and equipment, drugs, or supplies were provided by NEOM, Saudi Arabia (This work was performed as a part of subregional multidisciplinary scientific expedition organized by NEOM)
This publication acknowledges KAUST support, but has no KAUST affiliated authors.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Pollution
  • Aquatic Science


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