An environmental education center has been established in Siem Reap province to raise local awareness about protecting and conserving the natural resources of the Tonle Sap.
“It’s an educational tool,” said Patrick Evans, acting country director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which created the center with funding from the Belgium government. “We’re not looking for tourists. It’s geared more to Cambodians, although we need foreigners to help sustain it.”
The center has been established in Chong Khneas commune, a floating village about 15 minutes from Siem Reap town. The project is being implemented through the provincial departments of forestry, fisheries, agronomy, rural development and environment.
Evans said the center, called “Gecko,” Greater Environmental Chong Khneas Office, will house both permanent and changing displays on the flora and fauna of the Great Lake. The center also will promote environmentally sound practices such as energy efficient stoves, composting and sustainable tourism. One of the goals is to provide a community facility that promotes positive environmental activities.
The center is part of a project implemented by the FAO in 1994 to address natural resource management problems around the Tonle Sap. Problems include overfishing, poaching and deforestation.
The lake constitutes one of the world’s most unique freshwater wetlands, with the surface area of the wetlands increasing by about four times during the monsoon season. The so-called flooded forest is a result of a build up of water in the Mekong river that causes the Tonle Sap river’s current to flow back into the Great Lake.
Some 190 species of plants, 200 fish species, 100 bird species, 37 reptile species, 12 amphibian species and a variety of mammals including the leopard and otter have been identified in research of the area.
Evans said that one of the ways the center will be sustained is through sales of products such as local wood carvings in the shape of geckos and water bottle holders made from hyacinth. Local monks painted wildlife murals on the outside walls of the center.