KOTA ISKANDAR: The state government is in the process of setting up a Dugong sanctuary at Pulau Sibu, Mersing, said Datuk Ayub Rahmat. The Johor Health and Environment, Education and Information committee chairman said the sanctuary will provide a safe haven for the dugong and protect its seagrass habitats. He was replying to a question from Abd. Razak Minhat (BN-Serom) in the state assembly here today. Ayub said more small islands in Mersing are being gazetted as Taman Laut Malaysia under the Fisheries Act 1985, as measures to protect sealife in the Johor waters. The population of these marine mammals have been on the decline for some time due to sea water pollution that caused damage to seagras, which is the primary source of food for the marine life. It was reported that about 40 to 50 dugong remain in the waters off the east coast of the state in Kota Tinggi, Mersing, Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tinggi in Johor. The sightings of dugong carcasses is not uncommon on the islands off Johor, the latest being the carcass of a dugong that was found washed ashore at Pulau Tinggi in April this year. He told the assembly that the growth of coral reefs and the fish population in the Sultan Iskandar Marine Park (TLSI), Mersing, is estimated to rise by 30% following the placement of artificial reefs in the area. He said the increase was noted through observations made in the area last month. "The artificial reefs were placed in the TLSI waters as a long-term measure to overcome depleting fish sources. It is also an alternative to replacing coral reefs as breeding grounds for fish and to protect marine life," he said.