Saturday, March 3, 2012

Cambodia to Set Up Protected Area to Save Mekong's River Dolphins

An Irrawaddy dolphin

It has been recently reported that the Cambodian government has announced its plans to protect the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins by establishing a conservation area in the mighty Mekong River. This 180-kilometer area will stretch from the Laotian border, through the province of Stung Treng, and to the town of Kratie. According to Touch Seang Tana, chairman of the Commission for Conservation and Development of Mekong River Dolphin Ecotourism Zone, three government ministries had finished a draft sub-decree that may be submitted for the Council of Ministers' approval within two weeks. Under the draft sub-decree, the use of gill nets, floating fish cages, and houseboats would be banned in the area between June and November, and in "core zones"- which would make up about half of the protected area- for the remainder of the year. Mr. Tana further added that in recent years, the government had promoted dolphin-watching to attract ecotourism and stopped the use of illegal fishing nets. In May 2010, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimated that there were 85 adult dolphins in the river. However, Mr. Tana said there were believed to be between 85 and 180 dolphins remaining. The figures clearly indicate that the dolphins are threatened by fishing, where they risk entanglement in gill nets. Gordon Congdon, freshwater conservation manager at WWF Cambodia, stated that it is essential to ban or significantly restrict the use of gill nets. However, he also added that the move would affect the local people on the river, but the WWF, the government, and other groups were working to provide "alternative livelihood programs."

I'm extremely proud to see what the Cambodian government is doing in partnership with the WWF and other groups, in order to help save the Irrawaddy dolphins. By establishing a conservation area, these unique species of river dolphins are on the verge of being given a second chance. An earlier example was seen in the case of Bangladesh, who declared certain areas in the Sunderbans region a sanctuary for both the Irrawaddy dolphin and its relative the Ganges River dolphin. I'm also very happy to see that these organizations are providing the people of the Mekong an alternative route to fishing that does not result in entanglement of the dolphins. But what really amazes me is that the conservation program has been well-supported by the villagers because the arrival of tourists has generated income. However, I also feel that the influx of ecotourism to the Mekong River should be closely monitored because these dolphins could be very sensitive to what is around them. And getting too close to them would be disturbing. But all in all, I think they have a hopeful future ahead of them.

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