S OME 800 hectares of Koh Kong province's seaside mangroves have been ripped away
for shrimp farms in the past year, with more destroyed for charcoal production,
according to the Ministry of Environment.
Environmentalists are calling
for urgent action to reign in shrimp and charcoal production in the region, to
protect the remaining mangroves.
The Secretary of State for the
Environment, Mok Mareth, has criticized the issuing of business licenses to
shrimp and charcoal authorities.
Mok Mareth said such businesses were
destroying a valuable part of Cambodia's environment, and swift action over the
problem was needed by government ministries.
Shrimp farmers, many of them
Thai-owned, have flocked to Koh Kong's coastal mangroves, perfect spots for
farms, in recent months.
They rip down the mangroves and bulldoze the
land flat to clear the way for large shrimp lakes, many of them around 10,000
Sea-water is pumped into the lakes, and antibiotics and
other chemicals used in shrimp-farming poured in.
Periodically, the lake
water is discharged into the sea and fresh seawater pumped in.
said that, apart from destroying mangroves, he was concerned about the long-term
pollution of coastal waters.
But Nay Oul, Director of Koh Kong's Fishery
and Forestry Department, disputed that shrimp farms seriously damaged the
environment and said they were profitable for Cambodian business
Nay Oul said that many shrimp farms were built 50 to 300 meters
from shore, where there was not so many mangroves.
He urged the
government to consider both the environmental and economic aspects of shrimp
"I think that if they think only of the environmental problem,
of course it is negative thing. But if they think about the economy, shrimp
farming has more advantages than they think.
"You see, one shrimp farm
needs at least five [workers], and you have to know that one Cambodian employee
helps three to five of their families, So, this can solve families' economies
and create jobs."
Another benefit, he said, was that Cambodians were
learning from new technical expertise brought in by foreign
Nay Oul's department estimates that 300 hectares of shrimp
farms - considerably less than the Environment ministry's estimate - have been
established in the investment of $17 million.
Meanwhile, mangrove forests
are also being torn down to be used to produce charcoal illicitly. Mangrove wood
is partially-burned in small kiln-like ovens, to produce long-burning lumps of
Nay Oul said Thai business people used Koh Kong's
mangrove trees, which produced high-quality coal, to export to Asian countries
and Saudi Arabia.
He said his department was opposed to the practice. It
had destroyed 200 charcoal ovens, and arrested 20 people involved in running
them, in the past year or so.
But coal producers often moved to another
area to being again. "Sometimes, we have no way to deal with them. It is a
dangerous place to be because certain areas occupied by Khmer Rouge."
coal maker, Mi Yong, 45, told the Post that his business was very risky but he
had to make a living somehow. "Here we live with malaria and many people have
died because they haven't enough money to buy medicines. We are very poor and if
we had enough money we wouldn't work in this situation."