Stung Treng province – Sub-national officials and communities in the province are concerned about the impact of Laos’ Don Sahong hydropower dam on the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin population in the downstream Mekong River.
According to Reuters, the dam began operations and connected its power grid to the Kingdom earlier this month to curb electricity outages.
On Wednesday provincial authorities held a meeting with journalists and NGO representatives at Provincial Hall to discuss the dam’s environmental impacts on Irrawaddy dolphin habitat.
The NGO representatives include those from World Wildlife Fund Cambodia, Non-Timber Forest Products-Exchange Programme for Cambodia, Culture and Environment Preservation Association, Regional Community Forestry Training Center and the NGO Forum.
Deputy provincial governor Chea Thavrith said the Mekong, Sesan, Srepok and Sekong Rivers in the province are natural freshwater habitats and have agriculture and tourism potentials.
Mr Thavrith said when Don Sahong was built, it dramatically affected river flow, adding three dolphins went missing from a pool in Stung Treng.
“During the past few months a midst the flood season, dolphins migrated across the Lao border and back, but after Don Sahong began operations, river flow has been very low during the dry season,” he said. “Today, we see that the water where the dolphins live is shallow when compared to [before the dam was built].”
Tum Nyro, head of the provincial fisheries administration, said before the dam was built, there were 30 dolphins in the province. He added, illegal fishing is also affecting the dolphin population.
“We have had a lot of challenges when it comes to the natural resources sector,” he said. “Currently, there are about 800 nomadic fishermen from [other provinces] who come to fish near the Sesan II dam in Stung Treng.”
“This is a serious threat to critically endangered dolphins if we do not respond,” Mr Nyro said, adding the Agriculture Ministry designated parts of the Mekong as conservation areas.
Ba Phoeun, 55, a representative of the Preah Rumkel community in Borey O’svay Senchey district, said dolphins play an important role in providing income for families who depend on eco-tourism.
“When areas are designated as protected zones, residents can sell food and earn income from visitors,” she said. “If the dolphins are disappearing due to a hydropower dam or illegal fishing, visitors will also decline. This will affect people’s incomes.”
“We would like to ask that provincial authorities and relevant institutions help prevent illegal fishing and help protect dolphins,” Ms Phoeun said.
According to a WWF report in 2017, there were 92 Irrawaddy freshwater dolphins in the Mekong River in Stung Treng and Kratie provinces.
It recently called for a strict enforcement of fishery laws and bans on illegal fishing equipment such as gillnets.