Paul Stewart

The Last Playground of the Irrawaddy Dolphin

The Last Playground of the Irrawaddy Dolphin

The last remaining pods of Irrawaddy dolphin play here in the rainy season. Scratch and tickle themselves on these roots while enjoying their submerged home within the brown, boiling waters of the Mekong river.

IUCN estimate between 78 and 91 individuals on 190km stretch from the Laos frontier to the Kampi pool north of Kratie.

These panoramas are just a few kilometres south of the location of the Don Sahong Dam in Laos within the internationally recognised Ramsar wetland designated as site 999.

The tide of the seasons are many metres along this river. Maybe 6 or 7 (18/21 feet) right here. Heading downstream, the river gently deposits its valuable sediment load. Fertilising and extending the delta downstream in Vietnam before finally flowing into the South China Sea.

The Mekong delta produces 50% of the Vietnams entire rice production and its viability is essential for food security.

The Don Sahong Dam, when completed, will block the only braid of the Mekong that allows annual migration of fish between Cambodia and Laos where the fish reproduce.

At optimum times, it’s a million fish per hour. An orgy of biodiversity and part of an ecosystem that provides (at no expense) 60% of the protein intake for every Cambodian.

The consequences of diminishing or indeed destroying the balance of this ecosystem service from Cambodia to Vietnam, is simple and straightforward. Hunger.

With local communities reliant on the dwindling dolphin population as the main touristic draw, it may be time to consider the flooded forests as the new point of attraction. Canoe trips under canopy with stops on the way downstream from the border with Laos to Stung Treng for example.

Initially, numbers of visitors may be small however ‘word of mouth’ travels fast and offering such a unique experience could bring valuable cash to an area that desperately needs it.

In terms of adaptation it’s essential to reassess the hard realities. It’s a fact that the flagship species of the present touristic economy will no longer exist and steps need to be made fill the vacuum of their loss to the communities where they once lived.

In future, like the temples of Angkor, it may be that the trees can provide both shade and support.

Unnamed Road, Cambodia
One comment
  1. Great to read Paul

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