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Fish school around the pylons of a jetty in M’Pai Bay on Koh Rong Samloem in Preah Sihanouk province. Paul Colley
Fish school around the pylons of a jetty in M’Pai Bay on Koh Rong Samloem in Preah Sihanouk province. Paul Colley

Gov’t signs off on Koh Rong protected habitat

The Cambodian government has signed off on the Kingdom’s first dedicated marine protection area in a bid to save the Koh Rong Archipelago’s coral reef and sea life.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries signed an agreement late last week designating more than 400 square kilometres as a protected marine management area around the islands, located 20 kilometres off the coast of Sihanoukville.

Fauna and Flora International coastal and marine conservation project manager Kate West said the landmark decision would go a long way to protecting the coral and sea turtles, as well as the endangered bumphead parrotfish.

“It’s a huge step for Cambodia,” West said. “Because there was no formal protection for these coral reef habitats [before] . . . you risked overexploiting species. The marine ecosystem is a delicate balance.”

She said if species that protect coral from algae infestations were fished out, it would harm the health of the reef and other marine life.

But the project does not put a blanket ban on fishing, which is vital to the livelihoods of the villagers; instead it assigns different areas for sustainable fishing, scuba diving and research.

Ouk Vibol, director of the Fisheries Administration’s department of conservation, said in a statement the new zone would “help to drive sustainable fishing activities of the community, protect biodiversity and promote ecotourism”.

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