Dam blamed as dolphins vanish
The last remaining Irrawaddy dolphins have stopped coming to a stretch of the Mekong river in Preah Rumkel commune due to the Don Sahong hydropower dam in nearby Laos, locals have warned.
The activists from Stung Treng province say the dam, which is less than two kilometers upstream from the Cambodia-Laos border, has harmed biodiversity in the part of the river near Anlong Chher Teal, which was always home to the dolphins and had plentiful fish.
Chum Huot, a representative for the Youth for Social and Environmental Protection group, said Lao authorities had now blocked the only channel for fish to migrate to allow for construction of the dam.
He said local people have lost their source of food and income, since the area is an ecotourism attraction where visitors come to see the rare dolphins in the wild.
Mr. Huot and five members of his group have been monitoring the waterways and found the dam construction had stopped fish migration.
“Don Sahong hydropower dam is blocking the only way for fish to migrate between Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, resulting in a very high risk for national and local fisheries, and also affecting the lower Mekong basin,” he said.
He added that the blockage is affecting food security, since people rely on the river for fishing. The number of river dolphins has been dropping in recent years, but two or three were still known to frequent the area.
Since fish migration was blocked, none of the dolphins have been seen.
This has led to a drop in income from tourists who had been visiting homestays in the community to experience village life and see the dolphins.
“The homestays have no visitors anymore,” he said. “But the Laos and Cambodian governments are doing nothing to help us.”
Yin Vuth, director of the ecotourism community in Preah Rumkel, said the disappearance of the dolphins would have a severe impact on people in the area.
“In the near future, we could have nothing to eat because we have no farmland and have relied solely on the tourism sector,” he said.
In November, Prime Minister Hun Sen told Pany Yathotou, President of the Lao National Assembly, that Cambodia supports the construction of Don Sahong dam.
The 30 meter high, seven kilometer long dam is located in Siphan Don in southern Laos and will have a capacity of between 240 and 360 megawatts once built. Most of the power generated will be exported to Thailand and Cambodia.
The company constructing the dam, Mega First Corporation Berhad, say they completed an environmental impact survey before starting the work. They say the study showed no evidence of potential damage to the local ecosystem.
However, activists maintain the dam is a threat to the Mekong and more than six million Cambodian people who live along the river.
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