The Asean Network on Wetlands and Migratory Water Birds Conservation (Asean Flyway Network) held a second meeting earlier this month to share input which is vital to implement Phase II of the Improving Biodiversity Conservation of Wetlands and Migratory Water Birds in the Asean Region project.

The meeting was held three days between May 13 and 15 in Kuching, Sarawak, in East Malaysia. It was attended by representatives from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand to discuss the surveys and activities which had been conducted during Phase I of the project.

The meeting also discussed recommendations on enhancing the management capacity for wetlands and migratory water birds. Also on the agenda was improving communication, education and public awareness of the value of migratory waterbirds and their habitats.

The project was initiated and supported by the Japan-Asean Integration Fund and the Asean Centre for Biodiversity. It was led by the National Parks Board of Singapore.

Cambodia has some five million hectares of wetlands, which is equal to between 28 and 33 per cent of the Kingdom’s total land area.

The government has currently established five Ramsar sites, covering 85,235ha, which are located near the Mekong River in Stung Treng province, Koh Kapi area in Koh Kong district, Tonle Sap lake in Battambang province, Boeung Tonle Chhmar lake and Kampong Thom province’s Stung Sen town, according to a report by the Ministry of Environment.

Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post on Thursday that it has plans to protect and preserve the wetlands.

“The Ministry of Environment has begun preservation efforts and is implementing annual plans for controlling wetlands, focusing on installing land poles to mark their boundaries as part of community management and the promotion of their living standards, developing eco-tourism, creating public awareness, conducting research and strengthening law enforcement,” Pheaktra said.

BirdLife International Cambodia programme manager Bou Vorsak said Ramsar sites are wetlands, which are internally recognised as vital due to the presence of endangered birds.

He said Cambodia’s wetlands cover 30 per cent of its total area and that the protected areas are under constant threat due to land encroachment, fertiliser usage in the agricultural sector which affects the eco-system, illicit hunting and fishing, and climate change.

“Regarding the reduction of land encroachments, we civil society groups and the Ministry of Environment are collaborating to create designated areas – public use areas and those that should be protected."

“We are actively working to spread the word and educate [the masses]. Most importantly, we are actively seeking to elevate the livelihoods of the communities and help the agricultural and fisheries sectors,” he said.

Vorsak said the government is currently conducting research and aims to establish additional Ramsar sites. He said the protection of wetlands is vital to be used as tourism destinations and especially to safeguard fishery resources in a sustainable manner.