CAMBODIA has moved a step closer to protecting the Tonle Sap - including Prek Toal
- with the despatch of documents to UNESCO's Paris headquarters seeking nomination
of the lake as a Biosphere Reserve.
Such recognition of the Tonle Sap by the United Nations Educational Scientific and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will attract increased international attention and
funding, and help the government's environmental and economic management of the lake,
according to government officials and environmentalists.
"There is worldwide interest in protecting the Great Lake from all illegal activity
and over-exploitation of natural resources," said Minister of Environment Mok
Mareth emphasized the need to strike a balance between the demands of "almost
half our population [who] earn their living from the lake" and the environmental
and historical values of the Tonle Sap.
They proposed a 300,000 hectare reserve, incorporating the lake and its surrounds.
Three core areas would be marked off for special protection, while the remainder
would be zoned into "buffer" and "transition" areas.
The zoning system is appropriate for the Tonle Sap region, which is subject to a
range of uses, said Bernard O'Callaghan, of Wetlands International.
"You have core areas, no-go scientific areas, where research can be conducted
and the habitat remains intact. You have areas of small-scale economic activities,
and other areas of large scale economic activities."
Cambodia is required to establish a national council to manage the reserve and pass
laws before UNESCO can grant the nomination, according to Dr Neou Bonheur, who heads
the Ministry of Environment's technical coordination unit for the Tonle Sap.
If Cambodia's bid to gain the nomination is successful, it could clear the way for
later classification of the core areas as World Heritage Sites, he said.
The core areas - Prek Toal, close to Siem Reap town; Boeung Chmaa, a smaller lake
connected to the Tonle Sap on its eastern shore; and Steung Sen, a river flowing
into the southern reaches of the lake - harbor numerous endangered animal species
as well as unique flooded forests, vital to the productivity of the lake's fisheries,
according to environmentalists.
"These areas were selected not just because they are the least disturbed parts
of the lake but each of them has an individual character," explained David Ashwell,
from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Several bird species, the clouded leopard, civets, the Siamese crocodile, and spotted
cats were identified by Ashwell as threatened.