Deputy Navy Commander Tea Sokha and local dive businesses took restoring marine ecology into their own hands on Saturday by dropping two shipping containers in the waters off Koh Rong Sanloem in an effort to create an artificial reef – much to the surprise of officials charged with managing those waters.
Preah Sihanouk Provincial Governor Yon Min said yesterday that the plan to create an artificial reef has been a long time in the making and has previously involved dropping segments of cement drainage pipes to serve as structures for corals to grow on.
“The two containers are sponsored by Oknha [tycoon] Tea Vichet and [his brother] Oknha Tea Sokha,” he said.
However, Deputy Provincial Fisheries Administration Chief Hok Lam yesterday said he was never told about the plan.
“We created a model area for protection. As for putting the containers, I saw the pictures on Facebook, but I did not know … because they did not contact me,” he said.
The containers were placed in shallow waters off of a beach controlled by the military on the island of Koh Rong Sanloem. But thanks to last year’s creation of the Marine Fisheries Management Area – the Kingdom’s first attempt at a marine conservation area in the waters around the Koh Rong archipelago – the spot where the containers were placed would fall under the jurisdiction of the provincial Fisheries Administration.
Lam said the only project he had been aware of was one to demarcate the MFMA in collaboration with the conservation group Flora and Fauna International.
“Normally, for something like that they should inform us, but why don’t we know about it?” Lam asked.
Contacted yesterday, FFI marine conservation project manager Kate West said the group was also unaware of the reef-building, though she declined to comment further.
Pierre Kann, a hotel owner, diver and founder of Save Cambodian Marine Life who helped plant the containers on Saturday, yesterday maintained that marine ecology experts had been consulted prior to the project, but said they were unavailable to speak to reporters yesterday.
Sokha, meanwhile, maintained that a national committee had approved the project in conjunction with the provincial government, though he did not specify which agencies were involved.
He added that he intends to place more containers in the coming weeks, insisting that the reefs will create new fish habitats, dissuade fishing, and grow the coral and fish populations, attracting dive tourism.
While aware of the MFMA’s jurisdiction, Sokha said, “we have to do whatever it takes to make the fish and coral increase”.