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A refuge for river dolphins

A refuge for river dolphins

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The government yesterday moved to protect endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River, ann-ouncing plans for a 180-kilometre-long conservation area that would stretch from the Lao border through Stung Treng province to Kratie town.

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Touch Seang Tana, chairman of the Commission for Conservation and Development of Mekong River Dolphin Eco-tourism Zone, said three government ministries had completed a draft sub-decree that may be submitted for approval to the Council of Ministers within two weeks.

He said that under the draft sub-decree, gill nets, floating fish cages and floating houses would be banned in the protected area between June and November, and in so-called “core zones” – which would comprise about half the protected area – for the remainder of the year.

“We allow local villagers to  fish, but not [with] gill nets because gill nets kill the dolphins,” Touch Seang Tana said, adding that in recent years the government had promoted dolphin-watching to attract eco-tourism and cracked down on the use of illegal fishing nets.

The WWF estimates there were 85 adult dolphins in the river in May, 2010.

Touch Seang Tana said there were believed to be between 85 and 180 dolphins remaining in the river. Gordon Congdon, freshwater conservation manager at WWF Cambodia, said the main threat to adult dolphins was entanglement in gill nets between Kratie and the Lao border.

“Banning or significantly restricting the use of gill nets in dolphin habitats is essential if dolphins are to survive in the Mekong River,” he said.

Such restrictions would affect people on the river, but the WWF, the government and other groups were working to implement “alternative livelihood programs”, Congdon said.

Stung Treng provincial governor Loy Sophath said villagers had expressed support for dolphin conservation because the arrival of tourists had generated income.

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