Most of the flooded forest destroyed around the Tonle Sap lake in recent years for commercial farming has been lost in Kompong Thom and Kompong Chnnang provinces, which have together lost around 95 percent of their flooded forest over the past five years, according to fisheries NGO FACT.
Since 2005, around 53,000 hectares, or more than 94 percent, of all flooded forest in Kompong Thom was removed, while in Kompong Chhnang some 97,000 hectares, or 95 percent, of the forest area was cut, FACT said in an undated news release issued in advance of a workshop on Friday.
The statement, which cited government figures that could not be verified with the Tonle Sap Authority yesterday, said in each of the affected provinces only 3,300 to 4,000 hectares of forest remained.
In July, the Tonle Sap Authority said research data from aerial photography indicated that 160,000 of a total 700,000 hectares of forest had been lost since 2005. Flooded forests are considered vital feeding and spawning grounds for the lake’s fisheries.
Minh Bunly, Tonle Sap coordinator for FACT, said yesterday that “businessmen and powerful people” had hired poor local villagers to convert much of the flooded forest in Kompong Thom and Kompong Chhnang into large-scale commercial rice farms.
“Fishermen are very worried about the decline of fish because of the loss [of] habitats,” he said.
During a news conference after the workshop Friday, Nao Thuok, director of the Fisheries Administration, stressed the importance of preserving the remaining forests around the lake.
“If there is a loss of flooded forest of 10 percent, there is a decline of fish of 10 percent,” he said.
In recent months the government has intensified measures to conserve the lake’s floodplains, and forests and officials demarcated a 640,000-hectare conservation zone around the lake.
Authorities also cracked down on commercial farms around the lake, dismantling dozens of man-made irrigation reservoirs covering tens of thousands of hectares.
(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey)