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Dam developers hit back

Hydropower developers in southern Laos have fired back at the World Wildlife Fund after the conservation group issued two disparaging reports in as many weeks on the Don Sahong dam project.

WWF released a brief on February 19 alleging that construction of the 260-megawatt dam could result in the demise of the endangered Irrawaddy, or “Mekong”, dolphin.

“As a scientist, I am appalled by the direction that WWF has chosen to send this debate – out of touch with reality into the realms of hype and scaremongering,” said Don Sahong environmental manager Peter Hawkins.

The WWF’s dolphin paper claimed that water quality, sediment flow, habitat degradation and increased boat traffic brought on by the project, as well as explosives used in excavation, could decimate the remaining 85 dolphins.

“The project is a little more than one kilometre upstream of . . . the Cheuteal Pool, which is inhabited by a group of only six dolphins. These animals are ‘reproductively isolated’ by distance, from all other dolphins in the Mekong,” said Hawkins.

The project’s Environmental Impact Assessment, made public by Laos last September, cited that potential negative impacts to the downstream Irrawaddy dolphins “can be mitigated”.

“These are the only dolphins remaining in Lao PDR,” said Gerry Ryan, WWF-Cambodia technical advisor. “The dam will also increase the extinction risk of the entire . . . population due to the loss of range, resilience, and demographic potential from the probable extirpation of the dolphin group in the transboundary pool.”

Earlier this week, WWF called the project’s impact assessments scientifically invalid, a chorus joined by other conservation groups.

“Acceptable and valid biodiversity surveys . . . do not only look at the immediate area, but also take into full account the broader changes impacting habitat quality and food availability,” said Tracy Farrell, senior technical director for Conservation International-Cam­bodia.“There are six dolphins living directly at the dam site, however, the impacts of dams are rarely solely limited to the local or immediate area.”



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