The man standing between dugongs and extinction


Dugongs are unusual creatures. The world’s only vegetarian marine mammal is enormous, gentle – and on the brink of extinction in East Africa. But it’s not their curious nature or scarceness that drew Dr Vic Cockcroft to the species. It was their beauty. When he first encountered dugongs on the coast of Mozambique in 1991, he was so struck by their allure that he dedicated the rest of his life to studying them.

“I just had no words to describe how they interested me and their beauty,” he says. He went on to study them for many years, ultimately starting the Dugong Project in 2012. The collective runs research and protection programmes in Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania, with Cockcroft coordinating operations from Plettenberg Bay. With estimates suggesting that fewer than 1000 of the dugong species Cockcroft studies are left alive off the coast of East Africa, this work has become vitally important. Dugongs live close to the shore, bringing them into contact with humans. That makes them vulnerable to capture and worse – and with females only reproducing every four to five years, the impact of losing even one dugong is massive. That’s why Cockcroft does what he does.

The unusual creatures have given the scientist purpose. From his base in South Africa he has found a way to make a difference, devoting his life to saving one of our planet’s most interesting creatures.

Photographs by Fergus Kennedy were used in the creation of this film.