Border pool single-handed dolphins
Dolphin conservation groups and government officials are expressing serious concerns about the decline in dolphin numbers in the transboundary Chheu Teal basin of the Mekong River on the Laos-Cambodia border, saying if this alarming trend is not stopped, it will lead to the extinction of this important mammal.
The October 24 joint press release said the isolated population of Irrawaddy dolphins residing in the transboundary Chheu Teal basin is on the verge of extinction.
Periodic photo-identification surveys indicate that the number of dolphins has increased from seven in 2009 to six in 2012 and then to three in 2018 and that there is only one dolphin left in 2021.
The dolphin population in the cross-border pool was small at first, but started to drop even lower due to changes in the Mekong River upstream of the pool, limited law enforcement around the pool cross-border and natural deaths due to aging. .
Poum Sotha, director general of the Fisheries Administration, said the near total disappearance of the transboundary dolphin population is an alarming signal of what the future holds for endangered species around the world.
“Currently, although there is only one dolphin left in the transboundary basin, the fisheries administration will strengthen the area with agents for its protection and strengthen our cooperation with Laos in the management of this precious fishery resource. Dolphins are fully protected by Cambodian Fisheries Law and the Mekong Dolphin Management and Protection Sub-Decree, ”he said.
The main known causes of the population decline in transboundary basins include the drowning of dolphins after being caught in gillnets which then made them unable to periodically surface as aquatic mammals must, disturbances in river flow through dams upstream, overfishing which eliminates food resources for dolphins as well as directly kills them and the use of harmful and illegal fishing practices such as electrofishing, according to the press release.
He said that in 2020 and the first half of 2021, river patrols covering dolphin habitat in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces removed nearly 112,000 meters of illegal gillnets and more than 131,000 meters of long lines. illegal. Patrols also arrested 20 incidents involving electric fishing boats.
The very small transboundary dolphin population – which would have been isolated for some time from larger groups downstream at Kratie and Stung Treng – is essentially lost, said Dr Randall Reeves, president of the International Union for Conservation of Wildlife. nature. Species Survival Commission Cetacean Specialist Group.
“We are witnessing the tragic loss of the transboundary population of this iconic species. It’s really devastating, ”said Dr Uzma Khan, River Dolphin Initiative Asia Coordinator at WWF and a member of the IUCN-SSC Cetacean Specialist Group.
She called on the Lao and Cambodian governments to recognize the virtual disappearance of the transboundary dolphin population and to firmly end the use of gillnets and other illegal fishing methods in and around the transboundary basin, then urgently develop a plan to restore habitat by maintaining water flows that allow the movement of dolphins and mega-species of fish.
Kung Chanthy, head of the community fisheries network in Borei O’Svay commune of Sen Chey district in Stung Treng province, said dolphins support the livelihoods of the community and are an important source of income and jobs for communities involved in dolphin watching tourism.
“Mekong dolphins are considered sacred animals by the Cambodian people,” he said. “Cambodians know that where there are dolphins, there are fish. And without fish and dolphins, our livelihoods will be destroyed, ”he added.
Sotha and WWF-Cambodia Country Director Seng Teak have agreed that the Fisheries Administration and WWF will install a Dolphin Memorial Statue in the Chheu Teal Pool to remind the public and future generations that dolphins once elected domicile in these waters.
Sotha urged authorities in Laos and Cambodia to work closely together to co-manage transboundary fisheries for the benefit of local communities in both countries and to help ensure the survival of the remaining Mekong dolphin.