The government announced last week the establishment of the country’s first marine national park, the Koh Rong National Park, which covers the Koh Rong archipelago off the coast of Sihanoukville.
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The new national park, set up by a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, aims to protect the natural resources and biodiversity of the islands, while promoting ecotourism initiatives with a small ecological footprint.
52,448 hectares of land and water surface are covered by the park, which encompasses seven islands: Koh Rong, Koh Rong Samloem, Koh Koun, Koh Touch, Koh Tatiem, Koh Mnoas Krav and Koh Mnoas Knong.
The Ministry of Environment is responsible for the management of the national park, a task it will perform in cooperation with other relevant ministries and local authorities.
Taing Socheat Kroesna, director of Preah Sihanouk’s tourism department, said the establishment of the national park will boost tourist numbers in the area.
“The national park will also help protect the island’s natural heritage and improve their management,” Mr Kroesna said.
“We will work together to protect the environment and aid the sustainable development of the area.
“The province is already well connected by air to countries in the region like Malaysia, Vietnam and China. Now, with the new park, tourist numbers will definitely increase.”
Mr Kroesna could not provide exact figures regarding the number of visitors to the area, but said more and more travellers visit the islands every year thanks to an increase in the number of boats connecting the archipelago to the mainland and the availability of a wider range of tourism products.
There are now 11 companies operating 60 boats linking the islands to Sihanoukville, in addition to smaller transport operations run by local fishermen, according to Mr Kroesna.
Luu Meng, co-chair of the government-private sector tourism working group, said the new initiative was a great move for the local tourism sector.
“We always encourage the creation of new tourism products,” Mr Meng said. “I believe the new park is an answer to what visitors are demanding.”