Students aid dugong, seagrass conservation

- Dugongs and seagrass under threat across the world. Picture by Ansovina Chai.

MIRI: Five public relations (PR) students of Curtin University, Sarawak Malaysia (Curtin Sarawak) have the honour of representing their university and Malaysia at the recent 14th Global Communications Project (GlobCom 2016) Symposium held at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi.

Dominic Liew Lik Ren, Sharthika Sydney Purushothaman Pillay, Shamilli Ravinchandran, Mavis Chong Yin Sian and Ifan Ramadhana, who are members of the Curtin Sarawak PR Student Chapter, joined students from universities in 15 other countries.

The students act as “global PR agencies” pitching PR communication campaigns for “client” – the Dugong & Seagrass Conservation Project – a global biodiversity initiative launched by the Mohamed Zayed Species Conservation Fund, with financing from the Global Environment Facility and implementation support by United Nations Environment Programme.

The Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project runs through 38 national projects located in Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu.

“GlobCom’s theme this year for biodiversity protection and conservation ties in with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals,” said Dr Kamala Vainy Pillai, a lecturer in Curtin’s Public Relations and Advisor department.

Dr Kamala said Curtin Sarawak initiated the focus on biodiversity when it hosted the first GlobCom symposium in Malaysia in 2015 and introduced the “Heart of Borneo” communication challenge to create greater awareness about biodiversity preservation and indigenous communities in Borneo.

Studies have found that an estimated 20% global decline in the world’s dugong population over the last century was largely due to human activities.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists dugongs as vulnerable to extinction, put on its red list of threatened species.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has also placed dugongs on its most- endangered list, stating that all international trade in the species, with the exception of research, is completely prohibited.

Seagrass, an important marine foundation species, is also declining worldwide with almost 15% of species considered threatened. The highly-productive seagrass plays an important role in influencing nutrient cycling and reconfiguring water flow, while also providing critical habitats for several invertebrate species.

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