The 4th International workshop on the Conservation of the Mekong Irrawaddy Dolphin
These dolphins were near extinction a decade ago, and with consistent efforts from the FiA and the WWF-Cambodia team, we have managed to stop the declining population rate and have steadily increased their population. We gathered a team of national and international experts to come and review the conservation work carried out in the recent years.
The workshop started off by reflecting upon the progress made at the previous workshop and it was collectively agreed upon that the follow up has been outstanding. It has reflected well on the WWF-Cambodia team
The conservationists then reviewed the biological aspects of preserving the species and importance of improving the current photo-ID programme. They also explored the current population status and trends and focused on indemnifying high priority management and research needs.
However, there is a more urgent and overwhelming threat at hand — Dam construction. Years of protection in Cambodia have made significant gains in conservation of the Mekong River dolphins, yet proposed hydropower dams covering the entire range of the species in the Mekong may completely nullify this achievement. The Mekong River is the most fish-biodiverse river in Asia, and the construction of proposed hydropower dams will have severe impact on it. There is no disputing the conclusion that the construction of the three proposed dams on the Mekong would be a monumental disaster for the environment.
The proposed Sambor dam was of immediate concern to the group. Dr. Frances Gulland —the Senior Scientist at The Marine Mammal Center— in California said that “It has the largest potential impact of any dam on the Mekong River, and on the river itself. If the proposed construction of large hydropower projects in the Mekong River in the provinces of Kratie (Sambor Dam) and Stung Treng (Stung Treng Dam) proceeds, the risk of extinction of the entire Mekong River dolphin population will be greatly increased and the dams will eliminate or modify almost their entire habitat.”
The workshop also came up with recommendations that would help us maintain and take dolphin protection to greater heights. They include:
- Faster/safer vessels should be provided to the river guards and floating stations established during the dry season to decrease the response time of river guards to reports of illegal fishing activity.
- Night patrols should be continued and potentially increased from the current number of seven per month per outpost. This may not be possible during the wet season due to safety considerations.
- Feedback from SMART data collection should be provided to the river guards on a timely basis – ideally before the next patrol is conducted.
The workshop concluded that years of protection of dolphins in Cambodia have made significant gains in conservation the species, yet proposed hydropower dams covering the entire range of the species in the Mekong River may completely nullify this achievement.
Therefore, experts have said, that it is of utmost importance to organise information for the case against Sambor, to gain public attention to leverage community activism for hydropower advocacy.
WWF-Cambodia will continue to address the challenges of Mekong Dolphin conservation. “We shall be working with the FiA and shall ensure rigorous scientific evaluation and transparency in all stages of dam development. We hope you join us and contribute in every way you can to protect this living national treasure of Cambodia” says Chhith Sam Ath, WWF-Cambodia Country Director