More than 600,000 hectares to be designated as a conservation area
The government is planning to declare more than 600,000 hectares of flooded forest around the Tonle Sap lake as a conservation area in an attempt to put a stop to the large-scale destruction of the forests that has occurred in recent years, a senior official said yesterday.
Fisheries Administration Director Nao Thuok said that in recent weeks fisheries officials and the Tonle Sap Authority had held meetings to discuss the zoning and demarcation of 640,000 hectares of the lake’s floodplains and flooded forest, which are important wet-season habitats for the lake’s rich fisheries.
“We have a plan to conserve the flooded forests,” Mr Thuok said, adding that authorities would also replant some areas with forests.
Mr Thuok said the plan was devised in response to a trend in recent years that has seen farmers and agribusinesses clear tens of thousands of hectares of wetlands and flooded forests and convert the land for use in dry season farming.
Over the past few months, the government has ordered the dismantling of 15 man-made reservoirs, covering around 3,600 hectares of floodplain, in Kompong Thom province alone.
Mr Thuok said that based on aerial photography, officials estimated in 2005 that around 700,000 hectares of flooded forest remained. Earlier, that figure had been estimated at about 1 million hectares of seasonally inundated forest located in the five provinces that surround the great lake.
Sy Vutha, director of the Kompong Thom provincial water resources department, said officials in his province would place boundary markers to demarcate 118,000 hectares of protected floodplains.
“Now we are going down to the field to locate the area,” Mr Vutha said.
Tonle Sap biosphere reserve director Long Kheay said large-scale commercial farming and dry-season forest fires were the main factors contributing to the flooded forests’ demise, adding that agricultural land conversion had been concentrated mainly on the floodplain in Kompong Thom and Siem Reap provinces.
“The problem is not caused by poor people. The rich people built dams in the flooded forest areas,” Mr Kheay said. “If this does not stop, there will be a problem with the fisheries.”
Om Savath, program manager for fisheries NGO FACT, welcomed the plan, adding however, that in the past the implementation of such initiatives had been slow.
Mr Savath said he also doubted that there was still 640,000 hectares of flooded forest left for the government to protect.
“I think there [is] less [flooded forest] than that number,” he said, adding that FACT planned to conduct its own independent research in the coming months to map the loss of flooded forests around the lake.