Environmental activists have launched the “Rescue Island” campaign to urge the government to preserve Koh Kong province’s Koh Kong Krao island, Cambodia’s largest, as a national park.
They are concerned that development could destroy forever the natural beauty of the 103sq km island.
Thun Ratha, an activist with environmental NGO Mother Nature, said in a video clip released on Saturday that the little-known island has managed to retain its natural beauty and biodiversity.
With its white sandy beaches, crystal clear blue ocean, thick forest and abundant wildlife, the island is the perfect tourist destination.
However, having only a small population and being largely unknown, there is the fear the island’s natural resources are at risk of being plundered, he said.
“If no one visits the island and only a few people know about it, then it may be at risk of being sold to private individuals as an economic land concession, or development could lead to its forests being destroyed and wildlife hunted without oversight.
“Because of the concern over these consequences, environmental activists have launched the Rescue Island campaign. Everyone is invited to participate in saving the island by having it preserved as a protected area or national park,” Ratha said.
Environmental activists are committed to combating any development that would have negative impacts on the island and have requested the authorities to create a clear mechanism to protect its forest, he said.
Koh Kong Provincial Hall spokesman Sok Sothy told The Post on Sunday that the local administration did not have the authority to develop the island. Any such decision would be made at the national level and involve all relevant ministries.
He said the government’s target is for development and preservation to go hand-in-hand because the economy cannot develop if there is too much conservationism.
“Development does not mean destruction. In some areas, development means preservation. If there was no development, nothing [of an area’s natural resources] would be left,” he said.
Koh Kong provincial Department of Environment director Morm Phalla said people lived in five coastal areas on Koh Kong Krao island and, while it was still relatively unknown, tourists occasionally undertook the 20km boat journey to visit its pristine shores.
Deforestation continues unabated
The Ministry of Environment was looking into designating Koh Kong Krao as a protected area, with some parts of the island serving to protect its natural resources, while others could serve the economic sector, Phalla said.
“We have conducted a review and after it has been studied, we will submit our findings to the government to request Koh Kong Krao island to be designated a national coastal park. We are now in the study stage, but we have launched the project,” he said.
Cambodia has already designated national park areas on 7.5 million hectares accounting for 41 per cent of the total land managed by the ministry.
The ministry has 1,220 rangers on patrol to guard against natural resource crimes such as illegal logging and poaching.
However, forest activists have always said that despite the government designating land as natural protected areas, deforestation and poaching had continued unabated.
An environmental official maintained that offences had declined but said the ministry was short of rangers.
On July 13, Mother Nature posted a video clip of two monks speaking about the coastal deforestation on Koh Rong Samloem island in Preah Sihanouk province.
They said a private company uses a road through the coastal area for heavy vehicles and machinery every day.
The video said that when the monks collected alms at the house of provincial governor Kouch Chamroeun they had sought his intervention to stem coastal deforestation.
Koh Rong commune chief Chhoeun Chantha said that on July 15, the authorities enforced a ban on construction companies driving machinery along the beach as it disturbed tourists, but he said the sea had not been seriously affected.
“Only a few vehicles and machinery had occasionally been driven along the beach and the authorities have taken notice and banned such activity and made them sign a contract not to repeat the offence.
“But because there was no road to transport goods on Koh Rong Samloem, guesthouse owners and people constructing resorts had to use the coastal area to transfer their construction materials.
“It’s very difficult to work with the companies. In the past, they have not collaborated with the authorities very much,” he said.