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Floating guard post to protect Irawaddy dolphins in Mekong

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A pair of Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River in the Anglong Kampi area of Kratie province in September last year. Heng Chivoan

Floating guard post to protect Irawaddy dolphins in Mekong

The Kratie provincial authority in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Cambodia) is preparing to build a guard post in the Anlong Kampi area of the Mekong River in Chitr Borei district’s Sambok commune to watch for illegal fishing activities that may affect the Irrawaddy dolphin conservation area.

Irrawaddy dolphins are a critically endangered species with less than one hundred thought to remain, according to the WWF-Cambodia. It is estimated that 90 per cent of Mekong Irrawaddy dolphins live within a 190km stretch of the river located in Cambodia and Laos.

WWF-Cambodia country director Seng Teak told The Post on February 4 that the establishment of a floating guard station would enable prompt intervention whenever illegal fishing occurs near the Anlong Kampi conservation area. He said the station be staffed around the clock, and guards will patrol a 25km area of the river to protect dolphins from fishing nets, shock devices and other threats.

Teak said: “Currently, our team is cooperating with the provincial Fisheries Administration and preparing to construct a single floating guard station. In six months, we plan to go ahead with construction and operations in two more places. Our strategy is to continue to construct more. It’s a necessary thing to do.”

“The floating guard station is one step. We will look into technologies such as flying drones to better control the area. With adequate equipment, we will prevent fishing offences and intervene in a timely manner,” he said.

Theng Pheap, a village-level security volunteer, welcomed the initiative to build the floating guard station and said his security team would join efforts to patrol and prevent fishing offences that affect dolphins. He said, however, that the construction of one or two posts would not be enough.

Pheap explained that the Anlong Kampi area is difficult to protect because it is a large region and illegal fishing is common. He noted that dolphins have been found dead in fishing nets.

“As a member of the militia, I support the initiative to build a floating guard station in the river to prevent the loss of dolphins in the river. I will also heart fully join in to patrol the area during day and night because I see illegal fishing happening here,” he said.

Anlong Kampi fishing community chief Thon Tharong noted that members of his team and the village security guards had joined to staff the post and protect aquatic resources in the area, but still, monitoring and implementation have been fragmentary, leading to dolphins dying one after another. Construction of the guard station would help reduce the impact on the sanctuary, he said.

“It’s good to build this floating guard station to protect the dolphins. However, it is difficult and unsatisfactory that some people do not care about fishing prohibitions in this area. If people continue fishing here, fish, dolphins and tourists may all be lost. I cannot let them do whatever they. If they continue, I will call for stricter laws,” Tharong said.

At the opening of a meeting on improving dolphin conservation and Mekong River biodiversity on February 1, Kratie provincial governor Va Thorn urged fisheries officials and other stakeholders to prioritise protection of Mekong wildlife so that it may be sustained in perpetuity.

Thorn explained that managing and protecting aquatic habitats will eventually help to increase the number of dolphins in the wild and reduce their mortality rate to a minimum. Proper implementation will reduce illegal fishing in conservation areas, especially in the Anlong Kampi area where dolphins live.

“Working together to conserve these dolphins is also an important factor for Kratie province to attract local and international tourists to come to visit,” he said.

The WWF-Cambodia had reported declining annual deaths for Irrawaddy dolphins – from nine to six to two in the three years of 2015 to 2017, but a report from the Kratie Fisheries Administration indicates the numbers have recently risen, from five in 2018 to nine in 2020 – and two more in January of this year. This mortality rate represents a serious threat to the sustainability of the dolphin population in the Mekong River.

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