Cambodia: Sub-decree Issued to Protect Dolphins in Mekong River

The government has issued a sub-decree designating Mekong River Dolphin Management Areas in Stung Treng and Kratie provinces to protect and conserve the freshwater dolphins, while environmental and civil society officials said the sub-decree will make law enforcement more effective and may help increase their number and prevent them from going extinct.

This sub-decree, signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Feb. 27, defines the boundaries of the Mekong River Dolphin Management Areas located in the two provinces. It came in response to an alarming number of dolphin deaths recently — 29 in the past three years.

“The Mekong River Dolphin Management Area is defined and protected to conserve dolphins, a sacred natural treasure, to effectively participate in the development of ecotourism, improve the economy, society and livelihoods of the people, and preserve the natural environment balancing for biodiversity, growth and sustaining dolphin life.”

The Mekong Dolphin Management Area is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, in collaboration with relevant ministries, institutions and sub-national administrations.

All types of fishing, aquaculture, passing by navigation with fishing gear, navigating at speeds of more than 30 kilometers per hour, settlements and other activities affecting endangered species, especially dolphin, are prohibited in the Mekong River Dolphin Management Area in the two provinces.

According to the sub-decree, an area of 120 kilometers in length is designated as the management area, of which 35 kilometers is in Stung Treng and 85 kilometers in Kratie. It stretches from the lower part of the Cambodia-China Friendship Bridge in Stung Treng to the head of Koh Trong in the province with a total area of 621 square kilometers.

Within the designated areas, 216.4 square kilometers are called the “permanent core area” and 404.6 square kilometers are the “seasonal core area.” Both are designated as protected areas based on relevant scientific data related to dolphin habitat, migration, foraging and reproduction.

Neth Pheaktra, spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, applauded the issuance of the sub-decree to define the Mekong Dolphin Management Areas aimed at providing stricter dolphin protection and conservation.

He said this would help protect them from illegal fishing and invasion of the protected areas by fishermen who use sonar equipment that affects the animals.

“We believe that through this sub-decree, these areas will be made safer and the number of dolphins will increase as there will not be many deaths,” said Pheaktra.

“The conservation of dolphins in the Mekong region will also boost the process of preparing for the registration of Cambodia’s natural heritage sites into the UNESCO conservation list. It shows the government’s high political and technical commitment to conserve and protect natural resources, especially the freshwater dolphins, which are rare in the world,” he said.

Pheaktra said the environment ministry has also been given the mandate to prepare documents to request that the Kampi area stretching up to the Lao border in Stung Treng Province be listed as a World Natural Heritage site.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Cambodia country director Seng Teak said he hopes that the issuance of this sub-decree will further strengthen the conservation of Cambodia’s Mekong River dolphins and make it more effective because the dolphin sanctuary boundaries are set clearly and precisely.

“I believe that this sub-decree will increase the efficiency of law enforcement and management of dolphins, and I also hope that it will be implemented strictly, which will increase the number of dolphins. Because this sub-decree has a clear mandate, it will make our law enforcement officials more confident in enforcing the law more effectively,” Teak said.