20 Apr 2018


Imagine swimming, when one of your limbs suddenly becomes tangled in a net. You thrash around, hoping that the net will loosen, but the more you thrash, the more entangled you become. The oxygen in your lungs begins to exhaust and fear grips at your chest. Within six minutes, freedom is a lost cause.

It’s a terrifying, helpless fate. Sadly, this is the fate that many of our unique marine animals may face.

Dugong caught in gill net near Mackay, Queensland, April 2018

Princess Charlotte Bay on the east coast of Far North Queensland is home to a range of protected species, some of which have become locally extinct in other areas. A global showcase of breathtaking marine animals like sea turtles, hammerhead sharks, sawfish and vulnerable dugongs swim through these waters.

Dugongs, also known as sea cows for their almost completely herbivorous diet, can be found grazing peacefully on seagrass in shallow coastal waters, surfacing every few minutes to take a breath of air. The northern Queensland population is one of the largest in the world, which is why we need to do all we can to protect this last stronghold of dugongs.

Gill net animation
© ENTHRAL / Michael Carella

So it’s a tragedy that there’s a gill net beneath the waters of Princess Charlotte Bay, spanning 600 meters across the seabed. It hangs like a lethal curtain across vital feeding grounds for dugongs.

The holes of the gill nets are designed to trap fish as they swim through and get stuck behind their gills. Though the net can be selective when it comes to fish, there’s a terrible consequence for larger marine animals, as they are essentially swimming into a death trap. For animals like dugongs, getting a flipper or their tail stuck in the holes will cause them to roll up and become entangled in the net where they can drown within minutes.

Dugong with calf swimming in Australia
Dugong with calf swimming in Australia © naturepl.com / Doug Perrine / WWF

However, there’s one thing we can do right now to help protect the beautiful dugongs living in Princess Charlotte Bay: buy and remove the net. It’s the last commercial gill net that remains in the area, and by seizing the opportunity to buy the net from the licence holder before it is sold to another commercial fisher, we can secure an immediate 385 square kilometre protected area for dugongs, dolphins and sawfish.

Removing the net will also give us the power to advocate for the ban of all commercial gill net fishing from the north of Cooktown to Torres Strait, allowing for a net-free refuge of 85,000 square kilometres – the size of Tasmania.

If we can secure the net and push for this ban, we’ll be able to provide a safe haven for dugongs and other marine species, giving them a chance to flourish.