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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Shrimp farms ripping away mangroves

Shrimp farms ripping away mangroves

S OME 800 hectares of Koh Kong province's seaside mangroves have been ripped away

for shrimp farms in the past year, with more destroyed for charcoal production,

according to the Ministry of Environment.

Environmentalists are calling

for urgent action to reign in shrimp and charcoal production in the region, to

protect the remaining mangroves.

The Secretary of State for the

Environment, Mok Mareth, has criticized the issuing of business licenses to

shrimp and charcoal authorities.

Mok Mareth said such businesses were

destroying a valuable part of Cambodia's environment, and swift action over the

problem was needed by government ministries.

Shrimp farmers, many of them

Thai-owned, have flocked to Koh Kong's coastal mangroves, perfect spots for

farms, in recent months.

They rip down the mangroves and bulldoze the

land flat to clear the way for large shrimp lakes, many of them around 10,000

square meters.

Sea-water is pumped into the lakes, and antibiotics and

other chemicals used in shrimp-farming poured in.

Periodically, the lake

water is discharged into the sea and fresh seawater pumped in.

Mok Mareth

said that, apart from destroying mangroves, he was concerned about the long-term

pollution of coastal waters.

But Nay Oul, Director of Koh Kong's Fishery

and Forestry Department, disputed that shrimp farms seriously damaged the

environment and said they were profitable for Cambodian business

people.

Nay Oul said that many shrimp farms were built 50 to 300 meters

from shore, where there was not so many mangroves.

He urged the

government to consider both the environmental and economic aspects of shrimp

farming.

"I think that if they think only of the environmental problem,

of course it is negative thing. But if they think about the economy, shrimp

farming has more advantages than they think.

"You see, one shrimp farm

needs at least five [workers], and you have to know that one Cambodian employee

helps three to five of their families, So, this can solve families' economies

and create jobs."

Another benefit, he said, was that Cambodians were

learning from new technical expertise brought in by foreign

investors.

Nay Oul's department estimates that 300 hectares of shrimp

farms - considerably less than the Environment ministry's estimate - have been

established in the investment of $17 million.

Meanwhile, mangrove forests

are also being torn down to be used to produce charcoal illicitly. Mangrove wood

is partially-burned in small kiln-like ovens, to produce long-burning lumps of

carbon charcoal.

Nay Oul said Thai business people used Koh Kong's

mangrove trees, which produced high-quality coal, to export to Asian countries

and Saudi Arabia.

He said his department was opposed to the practice. It

had destroyed 200 charcoal ovens, and arrested 20 people involved in running

them, in the past year or so.

But coal producers often moved to another

area to being again. "Sometimes, we have no way to deal with them. It is a

dangerous place to be because certain areas occupied by Khmer Rouge."

One

coal maker, Mi Yong, 45, told the Post that his business was very risky but he

had to make a living somehow. "Here we live with malaria and many people have

died because they haven't enough money to buy medicines. We are very poor and if

we had enough money we wouldn't work in this situation."

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