KAMPOT'S lucrative seaweed export industry is facing collapse, with hundreds of jobs at risk, say local farmers who blame a port project for polluting area waters.
Pollution from the new port's construction has contributed to the once-rich waters off of the eastern coastal town becoming almost barren for seaweed farmers, with frequent algae and bacterial blooms killing crops, said the head of a seaweed export company.
"We cannot grow seaweed in Kampot any more because of the serious environmental effects on the water and marine life," said Raden Sok, executive director at Enviro Corporation. In 2000, the agribusiness company Star Private Enterprise started growing tropical seaweed on large 70m ropes offshore in Kampot, generating much-needed export income for the local economy. The seaweed, which takes about two months to mature, is exported to Malaysia and China, where it was refined for use in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. But since the City Power Group
Corporation started building the port in 2007, water quality has steadily declined, said Raden Sok.
Star started incurring heavy losses and was sold last year to the foreign-owned Enviro. Enviro now says it is relocating its farms out of Kampot to a 20,000 hectare concession in Koh Kong. "We have tried to re-start our operations [in Kampot] many times, but it always fails," said Raden Sok.
He said that the pollution in Kampot is so bad that seaweed cannot be farmed there for three to five years.
The possible collapse of the marine habitat also threatens more than 300 local seaweed farmers. Farmer Heng Chheang in Prek Tnout commune, Kampot district, said that he has seen his once-robust seaweed harvests fall to almost nothing.
"We used to harvest about 200 to 300kg per rope, but that has fallen to 100kg, and sometimes as low as 40-50kg per rope," said Heng Chheang, who has about 300 ropes.
For Heng Cheang, the farm used to earn his family's most important source of income. "I like farming seaweed because it lets me save money and have enough food to eat."
Wing Huor, managing director of City Power Group, which is building the port, said that the facility has not caused the seaweed farms to collapse. "The port does not affect seaweed farms because [the port] is in a different place," he said.
But according to figures from the Kampot Fisheries Department, seaweed production has plummeted from 1,560 tonnes in 2005 to almost nothing today. Dried seaweed fetches about US$1,000 per tonne on the international market, according to Enviro. Raden Sok said the loss of the seaweed industry will be a blow to Kampot's economy and environment.
"Seaweed is good for the environment, it helps reduce water temperatures, provide shelter and food for marine life," he said. "It gives job opportunities and income to local people," Raden Sok added.