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A young dugong, who recently became an internet sensation after being rescued, has died after eating plastic waste.

The eight-month-old, named Marium, first shot to fame after she was found lost and struggling in shallow waters off Thailand's coast in April. Photos of marine biologists nursing her back to health, nuzzling her, and feeding her seagrass then went viral in June, consequently branding the mammal as a symbol of ocean conservation. 

Officials say Marium died Saturday from shock and an infection compounded by plastic lining the walls of her stomach.

"We could partially treat the respiratory infection but the obstruction of plastic rubbish ... could not be cured," veterinarian and aquatic animal medicine professor Nantarika Chansue posted on Facebook, according to SBS. "She taught us how to love and then went away as if saying, ‘Please tell everyone to look after us and conserve her species.’” 

Chansue also pleaded for Marium’s death to not be in vain, urging people to protect the ocean and end single-use plastics. 

"Everyone is sad about this loss,” she told the Guardian. “The thing that needs to be resolved, if we’re going to preserve rare marine animals, is to protect the environment for both people and animals.”

Dugongs face habitat destruction, hunting, and death from pollution. 

The mammals, part of the sea cow family, are on the “vulnerable” species list — with just 250 remaining in Thai waters. 

The animals, however, aren't the only victims of the nation’s plastic pollution issue. An abundance of plastic waste — stemming in part from waste imports from countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia — has caused illegal waste dumping, open-burning, and millions of microplastics to enter the ocean. 

A 2017 report by Ocean Conservancy found Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, and Vietnam dump more plastic into the ocean each year than the rest of the world put together. The plastic damages local reefs and kills fish, birds, and crustaceans. 

Thailand's Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) said Marium would be stuffed for future research and that she would forever “remind Thais and people all over the world not to dispose trash into the oceans.”

The DMCR’s Facebook post detailing the death of “the nation’s sweetheart” has been shared nearly 40,000 times, with 14,000 comments expressing grief, shock, and sadness over the mammal’s death. 

On Monday, Thailand’s environment ministry gathered to discuss how best to protect the nation’s dugong population.


Defend the Planet

Thailand’s Beloved Baby Dugong Dies After Eating Plastic

By Erica Sánchez  and  Madeleine Keck