Fisherwoman Keng Sreymom remembers a time before the Mekong River was dammed, before the swamp forests surrounding the lake burned up, before the fish disappeared.
Perched on the floor of her home, which stands on stilts inside Cambodia’s Tonle Sap lake, Sreymom recalls: “Growing up, life was not modern, but it was peaceful. If we wanted to eat fish, we didn’t even need to catch them. We could just drive the boat out onto the water, and the fish would jump right in. The swamp forests were dense and full of monkeys. I used to swing on the trees with them and eat wild fruits.”
But the lake started to change around 2007, when hydropower dams in China and Laos started blocking the reverse flow of the Mekong River into the lake, causing the water to recede. The water temperature rose too high for some fish to breed, and the swamp forests where many fish lay their eggs started to dry up and burn.