Protection zones created to save Irrawaddy dolphins in Cambodia

Protection zones created to save Irrawaddy dolphins in Cambodia
An Irrawaddy dolphin swims in the river at Kampi village in Kratie province, Cambodia, March 25, 2007, credit: Reuters/Chor Sokunthea

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday announced the creation of conservation zones where fishing will be banned along the Mekong river in Cambodia to protect the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.

The Irrawaddy dolphin is a species of freshwater dolphin found in the Mekong river and in lakes and rivers in India, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Thailand. The dolphins are known for their distinctive appearance: a bulging forehead and short beak.

Cambodia has the largest population of Irrawaddy dolphins, but the population in the Mekong river has been in steady decline for decades, with numbers falling from 200 in 1997 to around 90 today.

The main threats to the Irrawaddy dolphins’ survival include habitat loss and destructive fishing practices, such as the use of gillnets and electro-fishing. A gillnet is a net that is strung across a river to catch fish.

Last month, three healthy breeding-age dolphins were killed by fishing nets and lines. The deaths shocked conservationists, who called for more protection of the remaining dolphins.

In 2022, eleven dolphins died in the Mekong river in Cambodia, bringing the total number of dolphins who died in the last three years to 29, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

In a statement, WWF called on relevant authorities “to enact and roll out appropriate measures to urgently address the mortality” caused by the dangers of gillnets and electro-fishing.

Under the new Cambodian conservation measures, authorities will install floating markers throughout designated protection zones, where fishing will be banned, Prime Minister Hun Sen said.

“The Mekong river, which is home to near-extinct dolphins and fish species, must be well managed so that dolphins will not die from entanglement in gillnets. The dolphin areas must be protected completely,” he added.


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