During a recent meeting in Phnom Penh, government officials, environmental conservation organizations and international fisheries experts agreed to work together to improve enforcement of fishery regulations and monitoring of the critically endangered Mekong River dolphin population.
At the Oct 28 meeting, organized by the Fisheries Administration, fisheries officials, the Wildlife Conservation Society and international aquatic-life experts recommended actions such as “improved enforcement of fishery regulations in collaboration with local communities, data sharing and the quick examination of any dolphin carcasses to determine cause of death,” WWF said in a statement Friday.
“Our best chance of saving this iconic species from extinction is through joint conservation action,” Seng Teak, director of WWF Cambodia, said in the statement.
“WWF is committed to continuing work with the Fisheries Administration and the Dolphin Commission on an immediate conservation plan,” Mr Teak said referring to the joint WWF and government conservation efforts started in 2005 to protect the species.
The recent meeting appears to mark an improvement in relations between conservationists and the government with regards to caring for the freshwater dolphins.
In June, Touch Seang Tana, chairman of the commission for Mekong River Dolphin Conservation and Ecotourism Development, slammed a WWF research document that claimed to have found toxic levels of pesticides such as DDT, environmental contaminants such as PCBs and high levels of mercury in 21 dead dolphins WWF had tested in Cambodia. Mr Tana claimed findings in the WWF report were wildly inaccurate.
Nao Thuok, director general of the Cambodian Fisheries Administration, said in the WWF statement that the meeting on Oct 28 was an “important step toward building an urgent recovery plan.”
“It is time for all of us to think carefully about how to conserve and recover this increasingly small population of Mekong dolphins, Mr Thuok said.
WWF communication officer Asnarith Tep said yesterday that communities living near dolphin habitats on the Mekong should be offered alternative livelihood opportunities to reduce pressures on these parts of the river, while night patrols preventing the use of illegal gillnets would further help reduce dolphin mortality.
Stung Treng Governor Loy Sophat said: “We have told the communities about the importance of the dolphins and reducing fishing in the dolphin areas, [and] we said the dolphins can attract a lot of tourists…so it is important to have dolphins in Cambodia”
Professor Wang Ding from the Institute of Hydrobiology in The Chinese Academy of Sciences discussed with participants at the meeting the lesson learned from the extinction of the Baiji dolphin, or Yangtze River Dolphin, in China in 2007. “If you don’t move quick enough, your population will be gone,” said Prof Ding according to the WWF release.
In August the government approved a sub-decree listing the Mekong dolphin among 58 endangered species protected under Cambodian law. The cetacean species has been listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species since 2004.
(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)