First she was rescued, then she became Thailand’s face of sea conservation, complete with her own 24-hour livestream. Now, in the wake of her tragic death on Friday from an infection exacerbated by plastic found in her stomach, the beloved baby dugong “Mariam” has one last role to play.
Determined to turn the orphaned sea mammal’s death into a wake-up call over the kingdom’s plastic pollution crisis, Thailand’s top environmentalists plan to launch “The Mariam Project” to promote large scale conservation of dugongs as well as other wildlife in Thailand.
Taking to social media after a rare meeting of Thai sea animal experts yesterday, marine biologist and Kasetsart University lecturer Thon Thamrongnawasawat laid out some of the things the project hopes to accomplish, including establishing a fund to collect support for wildlife conservation from the private sector and average citizens alike.
The project will have an international flavor as well, he explained.
“We are planning a global meeting planning to launch a global dugong meeting to join hands with other nations to address rare marine animal conservation and the sea pollution crisis,” he wrote on Facebook, proposing Aug. 17 as a “National Dugong Day” in tribute to Mariam.
According to Thon, there are currently just 250 dugongs left in Thailand. In this year alone, about 15 dugongs have already died. In yesterday’s meeting, the researchers set a goal of increasing Thailand’s dugong population by 50 percent, to 375, in the next 10 years.
The idea of the Mariam Project was first introduced on the day her death was announced. On Friday, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Warawut Silpa-archa gave an impassioned press conference pleading for citizens’ support in both environmental and wildlife conservation efforts.
“The conservation of natural resources and organization of trash is something our ministry have always prioritized,” he said. “We’ve implemented policies and set aside budgets for it, but all our efforts feeling like we’re clapping with one hand – no matter how hard we clap, we won’t make a sound. If 100 people throw trash away but only one person cleans, the environment will continue to be dirty.”
Warawut emphasized that even the smallest negative action can have a devastating impact, pointing out that just a few pieces of plastic had caused Mariam’s demise. An autopsy of the baby dugong showed the plastic had caused obstructions in her stomach, leading to inflammation and gas build-up. Mariam eventually died from a blood infection and pus in her stomach.
“It’s time we reduced our use of plastic and threw our trash away in the right places, so we don’t have to lose another beloved creature that was the kingdom’s inspiration … From now on Mariam’s name is going to be a symbol for conservation efforts for both land and sea creatures,” he said.
On Sunday, teams of veterinarians and volunteers transported the dugong’s for a final cleaning before sending it to Bangkok for taxidermy at the National Science Museum in Pathum Thani. Her body will ultimately be displayed at Phuket Aquarium.
Meanwhile, Jamil, the second baby dugong found stranded on a southern Thai beach in recent months, is reported to be in good health, now weighing in at 30kgs. He is under the care of veterinarians at the Marine Biological Research Center in Phuket.
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