An increase in tourism along the Mekong River could threaten the survival of the rare Irriwaddy dolphins if not properly managed, a dolphin expert warned Monday.
Though tourists may provide a potential boost to the local economy, they can also harm the dolphins’ natural habitat, Isabel Beasley of the Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project said at a press conference in Phnom Penh.
“If the foreign and Khmer tourists throw rubbish into the dolphin pool area where the dolphins live…[or] if they try to swim with the dolphins or they make too much noise, it can contribute [to] the disturbance…[of] the dolphins,” she said.
Last year, according to the Ministry of Tourism, more than 4,200 foreigners and 56,000 Cambodians visited Kratie province. From January to August this year, 3,600 foreign tourists and 86,000 Cambodians have visited the province.
That increase is partly due to better road conditions, said Ir Mongden, director of the provincial tourism department.
A year ago, tourists would normally stay in Kratie only one day to catch a glimpse of the dolphins, but now, Ir Mongden said, they tend to stay between two to three days. Foreign tourists spend an average of $80 to $100 during their stay, he added.
A major problem, however, is the use of motorboats to bring tourists to dolphin-inhabited areas, Beasley said.
Last week, the Kratie tourism department implemented guidelines for boat operators to cut engines where the dolphins swim and use paddles in the dry season.
Sixteen dolphins died in 2003 and 13 are feared to have been killed this year. Only 80 dolphins are believed to remain in the entire Mekong River.