Many species of fish that are now spawning in Pea Raing Lake in Chreav commune of Siem Reap province’s Siem Reap town are under threat of being wiped out by drought and predation by birds if the lake’s waters don’t rise higher than current levels by April, according to locals.

A conservation official said that the Pea Raing Lake, which previously spanned 270 ha, had now been reduced by drought to a surface area of 30ha to 40ha and with a water depth below one metre in places.

The drought has raised the temperature of the water to a point where many species of fish can’t survive in the waters remaining there but certain rare breeds of fish are still residing in the remnant of the lake at present, according to the specialist.

Kong Mongkol, the head of the Pea Raing tourism association, said that the lake’s waters had receded worryingly because the waters in certain places were extremely shallow and that the deepest waters remaining in the entire lake were less than three metres.

Mongkol believes that a plan to rescue the lake is urgently required and should begin with efforts to pump water there from the Tonle Sap Lake, which is 2km distance away, in order to rescue the 90 species of fish present in the Pea Raing conservation area.

“I think that [the present situation] could result in a mass die-off of the remaining fish in late April or early May. So, I think that in order to solve this problem head-on we have to pump waters from Tonle Sap Lake to [Pea Raing] Lake,” he said.

Mongkol said that the first problem that is killing off the fish are the shallow waters of the lake itself and that the second problem – caused by the first – is that more than 170 species of birds were now too-easily able to catch the lake’s fish as their daily food.

A view of Boeung Pearaing Bird sanctuary in Siem Reap province. Information Ministry

“According to the data, each day the birds are eating three tonnes of fish,” he said, citing a data forecast by the BirdLife International Cambodia Programme

Mongkol said that in addition to pumping water to the lake the other measure necessary to ensure sustainability is to dig the lake bed out to make it deeper.

“We insisted that Siem Reap provincial governor Tea Seyha do something to help speed up [the work of] digging and restoring the Pea Raing Lake this year – the lake must be dug deeper to retain its many breeds of fish,” Mongkol said.

A view of Boeung Pearaing Bird sanctuary in Siem Reap province. Information Ministry

Agricultural Department director Tea Kimsoth said the digging operation had been planned and would go forward but that the Covid-19 outbreak had interfered with the process.

“I sent a letter asking the provincial administration to set up an inter-department committee tasked with inspecting the digging of that lake on site. So far, the committee has met once because the province allowed the agricultural department to prepare a plan. We made the plan for the province already, but because of Covid, the next planning meeting hasn’t been held,” he said.

Kimsoth added that he expected that the digging work at the lake would happen soon because the committee meeting would likely be organised by the provincial governor within the next two weeks.