Upstream dams are drowning Cambodia’s protected flooded forest

High water levels during the dry season at the Stung Treng Ramsar site have been catastrophic for its unique ecosystem and residents.

ong Chanthy’s face lights up as he reminisces about the past. Thirty years ago, the flooded forest in the middle of the Mekong River in northeast Cambodia, just south of the border with Laos, teemed with life and communities prospered.

The forest didn’t just provide sustenance for the 13,000 people who live along the river north of Stung Treng town, says Kong, who is the head of community fisheries and ecotourism in O’Svay commune. It nourished endangered birds and fish, some migrating up the Mekong from Tonle Sap Lake in the country’s northwest – the largest inland fishery in the world, supplying Cambodians with 60% of their protein. And its shrubs and trees also offered river animals refuge from predators and safe spawning grounds.

“We poured salt into the boat, used lanterns, hit the boat with a paddle and fish just jumped into the boat,” Kong says, remembering night fishing in the 1980s. Kong has spent years researching this unique ecosystem and its fish species for a state research institution and non-governmental groups.

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