The destruction of more than than 30 percent of the aquatic forest that once surrounded Tonle Sap lake has resulted in the loss of millions of dollars for the country’s fisheries industry, government officials said Tuesday.
Land-clearing projects that date back to the Pol Pot regime in the 1970s have sharply reduced submerged or so-called flooded forest areas from 1 million hectares to 690,000 hectares, said Nao Thuok, deputy director of the Fisheries Department.
The submerged forest areas are caused when the Tonle Sap backs up and swells during the monsoon season.
“Because of aquatic deforestation, the government [has lost] $15 million in fish [over the past three years],” Nao Thuok said. “Clearing inundated forest has badly affected fish and other species’ habitats, while some habitats have disappeared due to continued clearing.”
Chay Samith, director of conservation at the Ministry of the Environment, said Tuesday that government steps to conserve the habitat have been ineffective. He said aquatic deforestation resulted in sedimentation, erosion and loss of natural habitats.
The first serious threats to the country’s inundated forest areas appear to date back to the Khmer Rouge regime, when villagers, particularly those in Siem Reap province, were ordered to clear large tracts of land for farming, Nao Thuok said.
He said destruction of the aquatic forest has been particularly severe in Kandal province and thousands of hectares also have been cleared in Siem Reap province, Battambang, Pursat and Kompong Chhnang.
Outside the Tonle Sap area, Nao Thuok said thousands of hectares of aquatic forest area in the Borei Cholsar district of Takeo province are endangered, while flooded forests in Prey Veng province that once served as a habitat for swallows have completely disappeared.