About the theme


Dugongs are an important species in marine ecosystems and have high cultural value to Indigenous coastal communities. The coastal waters of northwest Australia, encompassing the Kimberley and Pilbara regions down to Shark Bay, are home to one of the largest remaining dugong populations in the world.

While regular surveys have been conducted in Shark Bay and parts of the Pilbara, little is known about the number of dugong that inhabit the Kimberley.

This project has established a regional baseline of distribution and abundance of dugong in the Kimberley through the integration of traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge providing an effective management tool for future conservation and management.


  • Describe where dugongs are and their important habitats using aerial surveys
  • Count dugongs to estimate the population number across the Kimberley
  • Describe the movement patterns and dive behaviour of dugongs in their habitat
  • Develop a predictive seagrass map for the Kimberley
  • Talk to Indigenous people about important traditional ecological knowledge they hold regarding dugong, such as cultural hunting areas and seasons
  • Bring together traditional ecological knowledge, habitat information and western science to better understand dugong distribution and movement and health in the Kimberley


  • An aerial survey was conducted across the Kimberley coast from the Northern Territory border to Cape Leveque and from Broome to Port Hedland. Four observers and a survey leader counted dugongs and other marine fauna sighted within a 200 m strip of either  side of the aircraft
  • The total dugong population was estimated using the counts and corrections for dugongs missed because of the conditions and because they were under water
  • Satellite tags were attached to five dugong to track their movement and dive patterns
  • Traditional owners were consulted about their cultural hunting areas and practices and for traditional knowledge on dugong presence.
  • A Bayesian approach was used to compile the information from aerial survey, seagrass maps, tracking information and traditional knowledge to understand the probabilities of occurrence for dugong across the Kimberley.


  • Increased knowledge of dugong numbers and habitat use in the Kimberley
  • Involvement of Indigenous rangers in dugong surveys and tagging.
  • Integration of traditional knowledge and western science to develop a better understanding of dugong distribution, abundance and seasonal patterns across the Kimberley that can be used for Healthy Country and Marine Park management.
  • Baseline information to support future monitoring
  • Protocol for aerial surveys to monitor dugong abundance and distribution to be used by marine and Indigenous rangers

Project News

Counting cows of the sea in the Kimberley 

Indigenous knowledge key to mapping dugong populations

WAMSI/CSIRO partner with Kimberley Aboriginal groups to manage dugong




Integrating Indigenous knowledge and survey techniques to develop a baseline for dugong management in the Kimberley. (2017 WAMSI Research Conference)

Integrating science into marine conservation management: a knowledge exchange framework that enhances the delivery of science into management action. (22nd Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals)

Integrating Indigenous knowledge and survey techniques to develop a baseline for dugong (Dugong dugon) management in the Kimberley (Broome Yawuru Karajarri October 2017)

Integrating Indigenous knowledge and survey techniques to develop a baseline for dugong (Dugong dugon) management in the Kimberley (2015 WAMSI Research Conference)


Program: Kimberley Marine Research

Location: Kimberley Coast, NT border to Cape Leveque, Broome to Port Hedland, One Arm Point/Dampier Peninsula

Theme Leader: Peter Bayliss, CSIRO



Final report Summary


Final Report

Progress Report June 2016

Progress Report Nov. 2015

Progress Report July 2015