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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Tonle Sap wetland on the brink of a crisis

An aerial photo shows burned areas around the Tonle Sap lake in Siem Reap province last month.
An aerial photo shows burned areas around the Tonle Sap lake in Siem Reap province last month. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Tonle Sap wetland on the brink of a crisis

In a statement last week, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature identified ongoing fires in flooded forests as a major threat to the Tonle Sap lake.

Described by the IUCN “as the heart of Cambodia’s freshwater fisheries, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and one of the most productive wetland areas in the world” as well as the source for over 75 per cent of the country’s protein intake, economic and population growth threaten the lake environment.

Record-low water levels, extreme heat and drought conditions exacerbated the burning.

“The clearing of flooded forest for rice has a direct impact on fish recruitment, as well as other wildlife”, it reads.

Beyond fires started accidentally, the group identifies rice-field conversion, hunting and the setting of fish nets as causes. Consequently, “the loss of flooded forest will lead to decreases in both fish and waterbirds.”

In May, the Post reported on the burning of more than a quarter of the Prek Toal wildlife sanctuary’s forests, and estimates by Conservation International indicate that nearly a third of the Tonle Sap UNESCO Biosphere Reserves’ 640,000 hectares of wetlands were consumed.

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