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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Coral reef areas to gain protection in Cambodia

Coral reef areas to gain protection in Cambodia

Cambodia's first Marine Protection Area will be established around two emerging tourist destinations, Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem islands, a British conservation group has announced.

NGO Coral Cay Conservation said last week that it has been invited to map out a 300-square-kilometre MPA by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The country’s rich coral reefs, which flank Preah Sihanouk province’s sandy coastline and feed the area’s vibrant marine life, could vanish within a decade if action is not taken now to conserve them, according to the group’s scientists.

The reefs protect and provide livelihoods for thousands of people living along the country’s shores, CCC Head of Science Jan-Willem van Bochove said.

When healthy, they were worth a hefty US$130,000 to $1.2 million per hectare, per year, based on such coral reef-derived benefits as fisheries, coastal protection, tourism and other livelihood benefits.

Coral species previously unheard of in Southeast Asia have been discovered by the team, which could create more dive and tourism interest in the area, but they were now in danger of being depleted, he said.

“White, sandy beaches, created by parrotfish grazing on the coral, would slowly melt away, and visitors would only see rocks covered in seaweed.

“Losing these reefs would mean robbing Cambodia’s people of one of nature’s most precious gifts.

“Strong political action is needed now – areas must be set aside for conservation, where only limited human interaction is allowed within delicate environments.”

The MPA would involve designating different zones, creating a continuous scientific monitoring survey and engaging with local fishermen.

The group conducted initial assessments in 2009, with a multiple-use fisheries management plan drawn up. The MPA would be active in three years.

Overfishing, pollution, sedimentation and re-suspension of sand from dredging had hurt the reef, ripping coral apart, as did the mass coral bleaching across the Gulf of Thailand in the summer of 2010, when high sea-surface temperatures lingered over a longer than usual period.

In addition, private fishing industry heavyweights trawling around Cambodia’s biggest port, at Sihanoukville, which brought $14 million into the country in the first half of this year, could plague the project, van Bochove said.

“It will definitely have an impact, although we haven’t been able to quantify it – the sediment stirred up by the trawlers smothers and kills the coal.”

Head of the Fishery Office in Preah Sihaouk province, Doung Sam Ath, said all relevant departments were aware of the project, but that the MAP was not in place yet.

The office could not confirm whether it would place restrictions on fishing companies around Sihanoukville.

To contact the reporter on this story: Claire Knox at newsroom@phnompenhpost.com

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