CONSERVATION of precious natural resources is often seen as running contrary to economic development, but that does not always have to be the case. A wildlife sanctuary in Koh Kong is demonstrating how protection of the eco-system can also provide an income to local villagers.
Established in 1993, Peam Kaosoap Wildlife Sanctuary consists of 23,750 hectares of dense mangrove forests. It provides the ideal breeding ground for crab and shrimp.
Tith Keosamrith, 52, has lived on the floating village of Krasoap for 20 years. Only accessible by boat through the mangrove forests to the mainland some 8 kilometres away, it takes her an hour to make the round trip. Like all the other villagers she is dependent upon fishing for her livelihood.
“We fish for fish, shrimp and crab,” she says. “Right now shrimp and fish are very popular.”
According to Tith Keosamrith, the best season for catching shrimp is just after the start of the rainy season as the cool rain waters flush out the shrimp that shelter in the warm mangrove waters during the dry season.
“The first heavy rain is very good,” she says. “After that it is not so good.”
Claiming to be the first woman to dry shrimp in the village, Tith Keosamrith has been plying her trade for 10 years now.
“If we eat fresh shrimp every day we start to get bored, that’s why we have to dry them,” she says. “If we sell fresh shrimp we get a low price. We get a better price for dried squid.” A kilogram of dried squid fetches 70,000 riel.
For many years Krasoap has been in decline. The floating village used to have its own pagoda and school, but these have been relocated to the mainland. Many families have decided to move too.
“Before we had more than 300 families, but now some families have moved to the mainland because the roads and schools are better,” says Tith Keosamrith. “Now there are just over 100 villagers here.”
Those villagers who do remain sell fish to market traders and Khmer tourists who take the speedboat through the mangrove forests to Krasoap. The establishment of a walkway through the mangrove forest and promotion of Peam Kaosoap as an eco-tourism centre has helped increase the number of tourists coming to the village.
“Since they developed the eco-tourism community, tourists have started to come here,” she says. “The best time is Khmer New Year and Chinese New Year. Then more tourists come here and they buy [the dried shrimp].”
Tith Keosamrith believes the only way to protect the crab, shrimp and fish stock is to preserve the mangrove forests.
“The main thing to do is to protect all the mangroves in order to have more shrimp and crab, because they live in the mangrove,” she says. “Before when they cut down a lot of mangroves the situation for shrimp was bad. Now if poor people want to cut a little of the mangrove to repair their houses, they ask permission from the authorities.”
Lorn Kimyeung, 32, is one of Kraspoap’s many fishermen. For the past three years he has supplemented his income by ferrying tourists to the village from the mainland.
“In the community we take turns. My turn is for one week and after that I go fishing normally,” he says. “We pay 5 percent to the community, and the rest we share equally between all [the boatsmen].”
He agrees with Tith Keosamrith that the rise of tourism and the preservation of the mangrove forest have made things better for the community.
“We can see that life has improved because more tourists come. What we catch in the sea we can sell easily,” he says.
Tourism has also helped to protect the mangrove forests.
“Before they used to cut the mangrove in order to export to Thailand and Singapore, but now they have stopped,” he says. “Around three years ago they caught people who cut the trees, but now nobody does it.” INTERPRETER: RANN REUY