Long known to be accomplished fishermen, the Cham people who live on the road between Kampot and Kep depend on age-old techniques to sustain their livelihood.
However, destruction of mangrove fields in the area since early 2001 has led to a depletion of fish stocks and a massive financial loss for the local community.
Community chief Him Seum knows that if he and his people do not act, their source of income will be destroyed. “Before there were 79 hectares in the area; now there are only nine.
“The investors came and cut down the forests to make salt fields. They needed land for their projects.
“Most of the people in this community are fisherman, so they need the natural resources for their livelihood.”
Because the fish population is getting smaller, people started to leave the area in search of jobs in other provinces, according to Seum. To cope with the problem, in 2009, he set up the Tropaing Sangke Fisheries Community Based Ecotourism community group, which aims to improve the standard of living for people within the area.
With more than 2,000 supporters, 70 per cent of them Cham, they have begun to replant the destroyed mangrove forests. Since a mangrove nursery was set up in May 2012, more than 70,000 mangrove saplings have been raised.
They have replanted nine over the course of the project, having done several replants with anywhere from 500 to 5,000 mangroves at a time. Since the first planting in 2009, the number of shrimp and fish has increased in the area, according to Seum.
With it, the price of fish has also increased.
“Before we set up the fishery community, the people would only earn 5,000 to 10,000 riel a day, but now the people can earn 30,000 per day. They see the benefits from the mangroves for the community.”