Using the community to conserve Cambodia's endangered marine life
- From: Chim <ChimS1@xxxxxxx>
- Date: Wed, 10 Dec 2008 01:34:48 -0800 (PST)
Using the community to conserve Cambodia's endangered marine
Written by Christopher Shay
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
The Kingdom's first marine conservation NGO plans to help local
community members protect Cambodia's diverse ocean life against the
threat of illegal fishing and new development
WHAT was once a colourful sea floor teeming with ocean life had been
completely wiped out.
"There was nothing left - just bare sand," Paul Ferber, a co-founder
of Marine Conservation Cambodia, said.
A fishing trawler had dragged a weighted net along the bottom of the
sea floor, scraping the oceans bare and taking all the marine life
with it. Bottom trawling - the marine equivalent to clear-cutting
forests - catches everything in its path, rips out coral reefs and
stirs up sediments that can suffocate life on the sea floor.
As much as 90 percent of what ends up in the net is by-catch, unwanted
marine sea life that is useless to fishermen but integral to the ocean
ecology, according to Greenpeace.
"It can take many years for an ecosystem to recover from something
like that," Ferber said.
Bart Kluskens, a researcher at Marine Conservation Cambodia, called
weighted trawling "a waste of nature".
It was that dive nine months ago that inspired Ferber to increase his
conservation efforts. Ferber, along with Bora Raan and Bart Kluskens,
founded Marine Conservation Cambodia, the Kingdom's only NGO dedicated
to conserving Cambodia's oceans.
Bottom trawling is not the only threat to Cambodia's sea life. Other
types of illegal, damaging fishing techniques that involve cyanide or
dynamite are common farther off the coast. Kluskens has come across a
sunken boat with cyanide containers, and Ferber said he occasionally
hears explosions underwater.
As the islands off of Sihanoukville become popular tourist
destinations, a development boom promises to release sediment into the
water, potentially smothering the coral reefs, Kluskens said.
Increased scuba diving also poses a danger. Currently, there are no
mooring buoys at the most popular dive spots, meaning many boats
accidentally drop their anchors on the reefs.
Abundant marine life
But despite the threats, Cambodia still has abundant marine life.
Gianluca Lamberti, a trainer for Reefcheck, the largest coral reef
monitoring program in the world, who is working with Marine
Conservation Cambodia, said: "On any dive, you'll see 10 to 20
seahorses. This is incredible. There's not a place in the world where
a person can see that".
Seahorses are an important indicator species, because they are
particularly sensitive to pollution, Lamberti said. The government has
recently classified seahorses as endangered, making them illegal to
fish, according to Ferber ,who has seahorse tattoo on his chest.
In order to combat the problems of illegal bottom trawling, Marine
Conservation Cambodia has dropped concrete blocks around an area of
diverse sea life with the help of the Fisheries Administration. If a
trawler tries to drag a weighted net in the area, it will get caught
in the blocks.
Marine conservation in Cambodia is still in its infancy; no one even
knows what is in the oceans yet. No comprehensive survey of Cambodian
sea life has been done, but Marine Conservation Cambodia and Reefcheck
hope to change that.
With the help of the Koh Rong Samleom community, the organisation is
constructing an island office, replete with bathroom, restaurant and
bungalows, where it hopes to house scuba divers interested in learning
ocean-conservation techniques. During the divers' conservation
training, they will be monitoring the reefs by counting indicator
species, Lamberti said.
The biggest focus of Marine Conservation Cambodia, however, is on
land. The group has targeted people on Koh Rong Samleom, an island
near ecologically diverse sea grass areas and coral reefs, to educate
about marine conservation.
With the help of the Fisheries Administration, the Koh Rong Samleom
community declared 8,000 hectares of water a community fishing area in
September, meaning people outside of the community are not allowed to
fish there without permission. Village members patrol the ocean and
regularly expel illegal fishing boats.
Lay Thai, the chief of Koh Rong Samleom village, said, "When the
community fishing area started, we were really happy. Before, we were
not allowed to send boats away. With more fish, we'll have more happy
Starting next week, Marine Conservation Cambodia will train community
members to scuba dive so they can see for themselves what they are
trying to save.
"The best way to explain why marine conservation is important is to
say, ‘Come down with us'. They can see things they had no idea was
there," said Caroline St-Denis, who heads an education project at
Marine Conservation Cambodia. "They will understand that learning to
protect the coral will keep people coming."
Marine Conservation Cambodia sees children's education as key to their
"The children do most of the fishing. If we teach them now to fish
[sustainably], they'll pass it on to the next generation," Ferber
"Even though our name is Marine Conservation Cambodia, it's about the
village. If they're not struggling, they'll be able to help."
Through its involvement in the community, the group has helped build a
path to the local school, taught classes and donated books.
To increase fish stocks, Marine Conservation Cambodia and the island
community will also stick long bamboo poles with leaves coming out of
them into the seafloor, effectively creating a fish farm that allows
fish to lay their eggs and take refuge in the foliage.
"If we can make it work ... here, then we can take it to other places
in Cambodia," Ferber said.
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