Just from knowing where animals live and what they feed on, to which plants are good for our body and its medicinal benefits, communities around the world hold expert levels of knowledge on their local environments.

What is Local Ecological Knowledge?

Local ecological knowledge is made up of collected observation through long periods of time, which are often passed down from generation to generation. It can be as simple as knowing the best places to fish, or may consist of extreme events, such as periods of bad weather or timelines when marine animals migrate.

For coastal communities that rely on ocean resources, this gathered ecological knowledge is key to collecting food and maintaining livelihoods. But this local knowledge always comes hand in hand with science. It has been repeatedly examined by scientist and is now increasingly being recognized as a valuable and crucial asset in environmental management and conservation biology. It has also been used to help design marine protected areas, especially when it comes to monitoring rare or endangered species.

Saving the Dugong

Example of this is the dugong, a large marine mammal that is listed as vulnerable to extinction. It feeds almost exclusively on seagrass, a threatened plant species itself. Major threats to their population include habitat loss, water pollution, harmful fishing activities, coastal development, and unsustainable hunting or poaching. And to be able to preserve them, we need to know where they are.

Image: World Wildlife Fund

To monitor them is quite costly, as it involves aerial surveys that cannot be relied on at all times due to difficult weather conditions. So this is where local ecological knowledge can be highly beneficial. It has the potential to fill in the details of the whereabouts and numbers of sighted dugongs.

With the use of science and ecological knowledge of local people, there are big chances to save more species. The ocean is an ecosystem, where all that inhabits it are co-dependents. Both the dugong and its main food are threatened, and if we acquire more information on dugong and the status of seagrass, we can start saving the oceans.