We have received some much needed initial funding from the International conservation fund of Canada (ICFC) which covers our work combatting IUU, but also includes our first initial budget for creating these structures. We would like to thank ICFC for being there in our time of need and continuing to make this work possible. We are still however looking for more funding to grow and maintain this project.
Here is a small rundown on what we have begun and hope to achieve in the future.
The consequences of the global decline in shellfish reefs has largely remained under the radar of the scientific and conservation community. Shellfish reefs provide a large range of ecosystem services, including habitat and food provision, coastal defence, nutrient cycling and water filtration. Restoration of shellfish reefs in Kep Province, Cambodia, would catalyse the enhancement of its vulnerable marine environment. Importantly, aside from enlarging commercial marine species populations, this would create opportunities for aquaculture that would greatly benefit small-scale fishing communities. These opportunities would additionally extent to current illegal fishers, thereby addressing this pervasive issue in Kep Province.
We are currently undertaking a pilot project on Koh Seh, Kep Province, in which artificial reef structures will be created and deployed within MCC’s legislated conservation area. The main purpose of these structures is to provide substrate for oyster and mussel growth. This project will provide invaluable experience in setting up and maintaining shellfish reefs, and if successful, could be expanded long-term throughout Kep Province.
Bivalve shellfish reefs and beds (hereafter called reefs) were once abundant throughout many parts of the world, including North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, China, Korea and Japan. These reefs suffered dramatic decline (85% of oyster reefs lost globally), which is thought to be primarily a result of overharvesting, coastal development and the introduction/trans-location of non-native shellfish species. Conservationists and the scientific community are only recently beginning to study and realise the variety of important economic and ecological advantages that these reefs can provide. Oysters are considered ecosystem engineers, and perform numerous invaluable ecosystem services. Examples include stabilization and protection of shorelines, food and habitat for fish species, improving water clarity and quality, removing excess nutrients and sediment on top of the variety of short and long-term employment opportunities available for coastal communities and tourism industries. This realization, in conjunction with the alarmingly low level of functional shellfish reefs remaining today, has spurred a series of projects attempting to restore and protect these reefs in the Gulf of Mexico, Australia, the United States and China.
Shellfish reefs are still present in Cambodia, and despite a lack of documentation detailing historic shellfish distribution, they have very likely faced heavy decline. This most likely occurred predominately through overharvesting and intensive bottom trawling of shallow waters. Most declines start with destruction of the primary structural complexity, often through dredging/trawling, which increases likelihood of stresses from anoxia, sedimentation, disease, and non-native species1. Trawling results in extensive habitat damage and poor environmental conditions in Kep Province, and Marine Conservation Cambodia (MCC) has witnessed a numerous trawling nets with high by-catch of oyster and mussel species (see picture…). It is very plausible that this destructive fishing technique caused widespread elimination of natural shellfish habitats in Kep Province. Despite this, MCC believes that trawling vessels will not have a noteworthy effect on the artificial reef structures for a number of reasons. Vessels will be hampered from trawling through the artificial reef structures proposed in this document, due to the sheer weight and size of the structures, as well as the close proximity regarding placement. In addition to this, demarcation through buoys will aid fishing vessels in general to avoid the water nearby these structures.
The restoration of these reefs will form a significant step in revitalizing Kep’s marine environment and ensuing economic benefits. Shellfish reefs are associated with high levels of species diversity and unique assemblages, and improved water quality, thereby enhancing Kep’s marine environment. In light of Kep’s extensive seagrass decline and recent algae bloom, the ability to shellfish reefs to facilitate seagrass growth and hinder the probability of harmful algae blooms is especially relevant. By acting as natural coastal defence mechanisms, shellfish reefs will assist in mitigating the consequences predicted to result from sea level rise via climate change. This is especially important in ensuring security for Kep’s and Cambodia’s coastal communities in the near future. Shellfish reefs will provide opportunities for private sector input, which leads to further development of and improvements to the creation, management and monitoring of these reef structures. In turn, this may increase the productivity and commercial species biomass of these reefs, which ties back into further private sector involvement, as well as more widespread benefits to other stakeholders.
Small-scale fishers and their families, who rely on marine resources for their livelihood, will be the primary beneficiaries of these shellfish reefs. Cambodia’s marine fisheries are in a declining state, yet reliance upon them is only increasing. Sustainable aquaculture is a necessity to mitigate the looming detrimental impacts that are likely to ensue upon fishing communities and coastal provinces if action is not taken.
Evidently, the formation of shellfish reefs in Kep Province will benefit several parties, including fishing communities, aquaculture and tourism industries, and government bodies. Alternative employment for illegal fishers or those experiencing economic hardship will also be readily accessible, helping to address this ongoing issue.
MAIN TARGET SPECIES
MCC has identified two local shellfish species for restoration and potential future commercial harvest; the Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) and green lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus). The Pacific oyster is native to Japan and South East Asia, and occurs primarily in marine and estuarine habitats. This oyster is globally a popular choice for bivalve aquaculture, given its characteristic rapid growth (market size in 18 to 30 months), wide range of tolerances to environmental parameters, and lack of major issues with disease. The water conditions at Koh Seh are suitable for Pacific oyster growth, with the temperature (27 - 33ºC) and salinity range (2.9 – 4.1%) falling within the Pacific oyster’s spectrum of physiological tolerances. The green lipped mussel is widely distributed in the Indo-Pacific region throughout estuarine and marine habitats. However the installation of these devices will go far beyond just our main target species.
CREATION and DEPLOYMENT
Creation and deployment of artificial reef structures is taking place on MCC’s current base island on Koh Seh, Kep Province, Cambodia. Specifically, these structures will be placed within MCC’s 300m by 150m conservation and research area on the eastern side of Koh Seh. The marine habitats within this side of the island sequentially consist of shallow fringing reefs, seagrass, sand and shell, and mud. The depth ranges from 0.5m to 4m, with the maximum occurring in the mud habitat. Artificial reef structures will be placed in a specified range ending at the eastern extent of MCC’s conservation zone (approximately 300m from shore), where the habitat is predominately mud resultant from trawling. MCC has held legal jurisdiction over its conservation area for the past 3 years Before MCC’s placement on Koh Seh, unsustainable fishers using methods such as trawling, shell collecting, long-lines, rat-tail traps, and in the past cyanide and dynamite fishing, frequently damaged the reef structure and ecosystem of this island. Since MCC’s restoration efforts on the island began (December 2013), the intensity of illegal and destructive fishing techniques has lowered significantly. In saying this, illegal fishing boats are still active within Koh Seh’s eastern marine environment, consisting predominately of shell collectors and less often, trawlers. MCC’s efforts, in conjunction with improvements in marine law enforcement by local fisheries departments, have resulted in noteworthy enlargements in fish biodiversity and abundance, as well as ecosystem health in general. This improvement has been noticed by local small-scale fishers, who are often present within this area and typically use sustainable gear. MCC strongly believes that the marine environment on the eastern side of Koh Seh is suitable for sustained shellfish growth on the artificial reef structures. Nutrient levels are relatively high… Reinforcing this is research evidence from MCC’s coral reef surveys and personal observations that the ecosystem is in a state of increasing recovery. In addition to this, oysters and mussels already grow within this vicinity. Despite illegal fishing methods still utilized within MCC’s conservation area, MCC believes that the level of these activities is sufficiently low, so as not to greatly impair the effectiveness of the artificial reef structures.
Our Full Project Concept and Proposals are available on request for potential funders. Contact Us
This project also opens up many new opportunities for potential interns and volunteers, with regards to aquaculture and research on the impacts and scope of the restoration.
Illegal fishing refers to activities that are in violation of regional, state, national or international laws/obligations. This includes foreign or national vessels operating without permission in waters under the jurisdiction of a State, or against the relevant measures adopted by a RFMO. Illegal fishing in Cambodia has two sources; foreign and domestic. Both sources mainly occur in the form of destructive fishing techniques (e.g. pair trawling and electric trawling). Foreign vessels fishing without authority from their own flag State are also considered to be acting illegally. Domestic vessels which utilise mesh sizes below the minimum legal limit, banned fishing gear, or that lack registration or a license required to fish, are acting unlawfully. Furthermore, despite its alarming frequency, trawling in waters shallower than 20 metres is a criminal act.
Unreported fishing refers to those which have not been reported, or have been misreported, to the relevant national authority, in contravention of national laws and regulations. Additionally, it refers to the lack of reporting, or the misreporting, of fishing activities to the relevant RFMO, in contravention of the reporting procedures of that organization. Unreported fishing in Cambodia mainly refers to Thai and Vietnamese vessels that fish in Cambodian waters, as well as the lack of reporting of IUU fishing to the relevant authorities. Furthermore, the purposeful negligence of catch quotas and the misreporting of catch quantity/species is classed as unreported fishing.
Unregulated fishing activities include those conducted in areas or targeting marine stocks where no relevant conservation and management measures are in place. Fishing activities that are carried out in a manner inconsistent with State responsibilities for the conservation and management of marine resources under international law, are also considered unregulated. Finally, vessels performing fishing activities within the domain of an RFMO without displaying nationality, or flying the flag of a State not party to the RFMO, are considered to be carrying out unregulated activities. Some examples of unregulated fishing in Cambodia include the large proportion of Cambodian boats without license or registration, open access fisheries and foreign vessels freely fishing in Cambodian waters with no impact assessment.
Other forms of IUU fishing activities include (Funge-Smith; SEAFDEC Secretariat 2016):
- Catching of prohibited or protected species.
- Fishing with a fake license, registration or vessel numbers.
- Registered boats that do not follow the relevant vessel specifications detailed in registration.
- Vessels carrying more than one flag, fishing in waters outside the permitted or designated fishing areas.
- Landing of fish in unauthorized ports or across borders.
- Transfer of catch at sea.
Clearly, IUU fishing can arise in an enormous variety of forms, whether through unlawful method, catch, documentation, vessel specifications etc. Numerous factors that catalyse the development of IUU fishing will be discussed, for instance overcapacity, low relative risk of punishment and open-access fisheries.
Factors leading to IUU fishing:
Overcapacity of fishing vessels is a major driver of IUU fishing in Cambodia (Funge-Smith). Marine resources are in decline and struggling to replenish due to frequent and intense fishing pressure. In this situation, fishers may be induced to utilise illegal and destructive fishing methods out of desperation for sparse marine resources. These methods are indiscriminate and frequently result in the capture of non-target species, which are composed mostly of prematurely caught juveniles (Ahmed & Chanthana 2015). For example, socio-demographic surveys conducted by MCC during August 2015 at Prek Tanean revealed that trawler by-catch can be higher than 80%, and also consists of habitat such as seagrass and coral. Catching low quantities of commercial species perpetuates overfishing, creating drastic declines in marine populations. Following this, illegal and destructive techniques may be used in an effort to capture scarce commercial species. Finally, this reduces population numbers further and destroys habitats, once again increasing the level of fishing intensity and fulfilling a perpetual cycle of ecosystem destruction. Furthermore, this cycle has been swiftly intensified by the rapid development of fishing technologies (Siriraksophon 2016).
Exacerbating the issues of overharvesting is the relatively low risk of punishment faced for fishers acting unlawfully. Where the chance of income outweighs the chance of punishment, IUU fishing techniques are much more likely to be utilized (Funge-Smith). In Cambodia, the lack of catch monitoring and enforcement of fisheries laws leads to a very low likelihood of punishment in any form. Fishing vessels operating unlawfully reduce costs in terms of licensing, registration and vessel specifications (SEAFDEC 2016a). They also may ignore catch quotas, enter closed fishing areas, and target undersized or rare species, increasing potential income. As an example of this, Thai and Vietnamese vessels frequently enter Cambodian waters for fishing, contributing to the overcapacity issues (Bangkok Post 2009; Styllis & Sothear 2014). According to Article 38 (see ‘Article 38’ pp. 43) of the ‘Law on Fisheries’ (FiA 2007), foreign vessels fishing in Cambodia must be under agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries after gaining approval from the Royal Government of Cambodia. Cleary this law is poorly imposed on foreign vessels, however its enforcement would undermine IUU fishing in the Kep Archipelago. Overall, domestic and foreign fishers face minimum incentive to fish lawfully, thus they may be driven to adopt IUU fishing techniques.
The presence of open-access fisheries (OAFs) in Cambodia greatly hinders efforts to combat IUU and overfishing. Owing to the lack of regulation in OAFs, fishing intensity is typically higher than the socially optimal level, economic profits from fishing are dissipated, and marine stocks are degraded or even driven to extinction (Fuller et al. 2013). Clearly, OAFs are not sustainable or cost-effective. The proposed MFMA seeks to establish regulated zones, which will overcome the issues faced and consequences caused by OAFs. Together with improved fisheries law enforcement, vessel registration and formation of monitoring system, the impacts OAFs have caused environmentally, socially and economically, will be rectified by this MFMA.
Vessel registration and Monitoring Control & Surveillance (MCS):
As it stands currently, Cambodia faces numerous issues with boat licensing and registration. Relatively few vessels apply for a fishing license, the enforcement of licenses is inadequate and additionally, fishers generally do not have any rationale for acquiring a fishing license (SEAFDEC 2016d). Presently, the improvement of law enforcement and the distribution of information to boat owners regarding fisheries laws are being attempted in an effort to resolve these issues. This is important, given that the lack of a license and the non-payment of fishing fees by non-subsistence fishers is illegal according to Article 32 and 45 (see ‘Article 32’ and ‘Article 45’ pp. 43) of the ‘Law on Fisheries’ (FiA 2007).
‘Monitoring and control on fishing vessels registration’ forms no. 3. 2. 5 of the Annual Work Plan (AWP) 2016 for the FiA (FiA 2016). Cooperation between the FiA and other relevant authorities is required, for instance with the Marine Police and regional Fisheries departments. Additional support may also be required by relevant agencies, given that limited budget and manpower is one of the challenges faced in combatting IUU fishing (SEAFDEC 2016b). Together, these agencies can cooperatively develop greater levels of licensing and registration, whether by information dissemination or enforcement of relevant fisheries laws.
Importantly, vessel registration allows for an MCS system to be established, a key step towards achieving sustainable fisheries. A MCS is defined as follows (FAO 1981);
Monitoring: the continuous requirement for the measurement of fishing effort characteristics and resource yields;
Control: the regulatory conditions under which the exploitation of the resource may be conducted; and,
Surveillance: the degree and types of observations required to maintain compliance with the regulatory controls on imposed fishing activities.
In a fisheries context, the purpose of a MCS system is to ensure that control measures, once agreed and adopted, are sufficiently implemented (Bergh & Davies 2002). Abiding by conservation measures is vital to the effective management of fishery resources. MCS places emphasis on encouraging compliance by fishers, as opposed to enforcing regulations upon them. However, the consequences of non-compliance must be fairly established relative to the effect they will have on the fishery. In the case of the proposed MFMA, fisheries laws against IUU fishing should be strongly enforced, whilst small-scale sustainable fishing should be encouraged.
MCS systems assist in achieving compliance with measures by providing feedback and information to the management strategy, which can be used to focus on compliance issues or otherwise. MCS information may be collected from official landing ports where catch monitoring can be recorded. Catch monitoring, a key aspect of MCS, provides essential information regarding catch quantities relative to fishing capacity (FiA 2016), as well as trends in the size and population of marine stocks. Unfortunately, owing to little official data on fleet composition, fishing effort and marine catch in Cambodia, it is not feasible to perform an assessment of fishing capacity (FiA 2016). Bearing in mind that the assessment of Cambodia’s fishing capacity is considered to be the first step towards developing a National Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (NPOA-IUU), the need to implement MCS is of great significance (National FiA 2016).
Importantly, catch monitoring also hinders IUU fishing vessels, which lack registration and thus cannot dock at official landing ports where catch monitoring is conducted. The issue of IUU fishing products entering the market is addressed in the ´ASEAN Guidelines for Preventing the Entry of Fish and Fishery Products from IUU Fishing Activities into the Supply Chain´ (SEAFDEC 2016a). One of the primary objectives of these guidelines is to establish strategies and measures to prevent the entry of fish and fishery products from IUU activities into the supply chain. MRAG (2009) estimated the annual production from IUU fishing activities to be between 11 and 26 million metric tonnes, accounting for 10 to 22% of the world’s total fisheries production, and valued around US$9 to 24 billion per year. In Southeast Asia, some studies estimate the total IUU fisheries production to be valued close to US$5.8 billion (SEAFDEC 2016a). Clearly, this issue is pervasive and desperately needs combating via policy and ground-level changes, which a MCS framework will provide. In addition to this, fisheries MCS by Cambodia would align its interests with that of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (Bergh & Davies 2002). This infers that implementation of the proposed MFMA aligns regional and national action with international instruments, i.e. the United Nations (UN).
As part of these ASEAN Guidelines, a strategy for data collection and reduction of IUU fishing is the ASEAN Catch Documentation Scheme (ACDS). The ACDS aims to improve the traceability of fishery products, the credibility of fishery products for intra-regional and international trade, and additionally prevent the entry of IUU fishery products into the supply chain of AMS (SEAFDEC 2016a). Following the principles outlined in the ACDS would greatly improve Cambodia’s catch monitoring and ease of fisheries law enforcement. Given Cambodia’s red card status with the European Union (EU) since November 2013 (European Commission 2015b), the scope of its international fisheries trade is limited. However, with the establishment of the ACDS and other sustainable policy and practical changes, for instance the implementation of the proposed MFMA, Cambodia could expunge its red card. Supporting this, in December 2014 Belize had its red card rebuked, after adopting ´lasting measures to address the deficiencies of its fisheries systems´ (European Commission 2015a). By following Belize’s lead, Cambodia as a whole could reap vast economic benefits for Cambodia, especially for fishery industries.
Cambodia is one of eleven countries that provides technical advice and assistance for the Regional Plan of Action (RPOA) to Promote Responsible Fishing Practices Including Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing in the Region (RPOA-IUU 2016). Notably, SEAFDEC is one of four organizations that fulfils a similar role. The RPOA aims to sustain vital fishery resources through the strengthening of fisheries management and the promotion of sustainable fishing practises in the region. Actions consist of conservation of marine resources and their environment, management of fishing capacity, and combatting IUU fishing in specific regions, including the Sub-Regional Gulf of Thailand. These actions are vital to ensuring food security and poverty alleviation in the region. The formation of the proposed MFMA would align Cambodia’s regional actions to that outlined in the RPOA, a vital step in developing sustainable long-term fishing practises. In turn, adopting the RPOA in Cambodia would set the foundation for embracing larger national and international instruments, for instance the developing NPOA-IUU, and the International Plan of Action (IPOA) to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing’.
The Kingdom of Cambodia’s Law on Fisheries (2007) – Laws Applicable to Fishing Activities in the Kep Archipelago:
Chapter 3 – The Fishery Domains:
The Marine Fishery Domain refers to marine water or brackish water that extends from the coastline at the highest high tide of the coastal lines to the outer limits of the EEZ of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
The Marine Fishery Domain is divided into:
- Inshore fishery area, which extends from the coastline at higher high tide to the 20m deep line.
- Offshore fishing area, which extends from the 20m deep line to the outer limits of the EEZ of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
- Fishery conservation area, seagrass area, and coral reef area which are habitats for marine aquatic animals and plants.
- Mangrove forest area including mangrove and forest zone which are important feeding and breeding habitats for aquatic animals, and protected inundated areas.
Chapter 5 – Protection and Conservation of Fisheries:
All kinds of fishery activities in the fishery domain by using the following gears shall be absolutely prohibited:
1 – Electrocuting devices, explosive stuff or all kinds of poisons.
4 – Spear fishing gears, Chhbok, Sang, Snor with projected lamp.
6 – Net of all kinds of seines with mesh size of less than 1.5cm in inland fishery domain.
8 – Pair trawler or encircling net with attractive illuminative lamp for fish concentration.
Producing, buying, selling, transporting and storing and electrocuting devices, all type of mosquito net fishing gears, mechanised motor pushed nets, inland trawler that are used for fishing purpose shall be prohibited.
The following activities are permitted under permission:
2 – Transporting, processing, buying, selling and stocking endangered fishery resources.
6 – Buying or selling ornamental shells of rare species.
Chapter 7 - The Management of Fishery Exploitation:
All types of fishing exploitation in the inland and marine fishery domains, except subsistence fishing, shall have:
1 – To get a fishing license.
2 – To pay tax and fishing fees to the state.
3 – To follow the regulations stipulated in the fishing license.
The hiring of fishing lots for exploitation can be undertaken through investment, public bidding or hiring, by agreement for those fishing lots, which have no bidders interested in bidding.
The legal procedures for investment, public bidding, hiring by agreement, and payment of fishery fees shall be determined by sub-decree.
Chapter 9 – Marine Fishery Exploitation:
All types of fishery exploitation in the marine fishery domain, except subsistence fishing, shall be allowed only in the possession of a license and these exploitations shall follow the conditions and obligations in fishing logbook.
The model of the fishing logbook shall be determined by the proclamation of the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Fishers shall tranship fisheries products at a fishing port determined by the FiA.
Foreign fishing vessels that are permitted to fish in the marine fishery domain shall inform the FiA prior to port calls in marine fishery domains of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Other terms and conditions on transhipment of fishery products and anchoring of the foreign fishing vessels shall be determined by the fisheries administration.
Based on precise scientific information that the fishing practises have been or are being the cause of serious damage to fish stock, the FiA has the rights to immediately and temporarily suspend fishing activities and propose for a re-examination of the fishing agreement in order to seek for the decision from the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Trawling in the inshore fishing areas shall be forbidden, except for the permission from the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries at the request of the FiA to conduct scientific and technical research.
All fishing vessels which are not licensed to fish in the marine fishery domain shall not keep their trawl fishing gears stowed in a manner that they are ready for fishing.
Shall be prohibited:
1 – Fishing or any form of exploitation, which damages or disturbs the growth of seagrass or coral reef.
2 – Collecting, buying, selling, transporting or stocking of corals.
3 – Making port calls and anchoring in a coral reef area.
4 – Destroying seagrass or coral by other activities.
All of the above activities mentioned in points 1, 2 and 3, may be undertaken only when permission if given from the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Chapter 15 – Penalties:
Any of the following activities committed by the Fisheries Administration Officer shall be considered as an offence and shall be subjected to an imprisonment from 1 to 3 years and can be fined from 5,000,000 to 50,000,000 Riels:
1 – Provide any permission against this laws.
2 – Participate in full or in part and directly or indirectly in any activity or fishery exploitation against this law.
3 – Forgive any fishery offence class 1.
4 – Running the fishing lot either as owner or a share-holder while being a civil servant.
5 – Do not timely report or complain the fishery offence class 1 which appears in their competence.
6 – Intentionally neglect in fulfilling duty or deceivingly give wrong information in writing, which causes the fishery offence class 1.
Marine Conservation is actively involved not only on the ground dealing with the frontline issues of foreign and domestic IUU incursions, we are also involved in the policy making processes. Our Founder/Director has been invited to speak as an expert on Cambodian IUU issues at both a national level and ASEAN level and currently sits as co-chair on the national fisheries sub-committee on IUU. Assisting Cambodia on its reforms within the fisheries sector and very specifically on addressing the current issues of IUU that are affecting Cambodia's marine resources.
Conservation : Noun
The protection of natural resourses
To Conserve :Verb
To prevent something from being wasted, damaged, or destroyed
To Protect : Verb
To prevent something from being harmed or damaged
Throughout the world costal regions have played one of the most significant roles in the development of a country. In many cases the largest cities of a country were started where the sea ended and land began. The wealth of resources costal regions can offer in the development of a country almost can’t be measured. From being a source of renewable food, to opening the country up to the rest of the world via trade routes for supplies, waterways have been a critical environment to the success of endless countries. In many ways this applies to Cambodia as well.
The largest major cities in Cambodia are located far inland from the sea, but in no way does this discount how crucial Cambodian waters are to the country. With rich marine habitats, diverse marine species, and bountiful marine resources, Cambodia costal regions have played a key role in this countries development throughout its history up to where it is today. Since the beginning of Cambodia’s history their coastlines have be a food source for the entire country, a livelihood for local fishing communities, and played a critical role in Cambodia’s defenses during times of war.
With such an importance being placed on one single resource, as that country grows, so does the destruction of that resource. Cambodia is not exempt from this destruction, and in many ways, it is in a more critical state then a majority of other countries.
Cambodia has had a very difficult and often sad history. For many years this country was in various states of war and even suffered through a horrendous period of civil genocide. Overcoming these times forced the governments of Cambodia to make choices many other countries have never had to face. With almost no industry in Cambodia and the pressing need to save the Cambodian people, the country looked to its natural resources as a way to help the country.
Every other country in the world uses their natural resources to drive its economy and Cambodia is no different. Unlike other countries Cambodia was coming out of horrific times and when it looked to the rest of the world for help, many countries turned their back on Cambodia. Being forced to take on this daunting task alone very few resources we taken with sustainability being considered or with any form of protection placed on them. Even today Cambodian ministries simply do not have the funding to prevent destruction of its natural resources and their waters are in serious jeopardy.
As Cambodia becomes a modern country these resources, especially their oceans, are being put on under heavy strain. Increased tourism, increased export of multiple sea products, and the uncontrolled development of costal regions are over-taxing this resource.
To meet the demands fishermen are being forced to take drastic measures. Illegal and destructive fishing practices have almost become the normal way of life in costal fishing communities just to keep these communities competitive.
As many countries surrounding Cambodia have already fished out their waters we are seeing a large influx of foreign illegal fishing vessels entering Cambodian waters practicing the same destructive fishing practices as Cambodian fishing vessels. With the damage caused by foreign vessels added to what is being done by local fishing communities it is not unrealistic to imagine Cambodian waters being pushed to the point of permanent collapse.
Without immediate and serious intervention the collapse of this resource is inventible. The Cambodian Government simply does not have the resources to fund, monitor, or enforce what is going on in their waters, which is one of the major reasons Marine Conservation Cambodia is here.
A wonderful speech was given in Scotland by Amanda Vincent, one of the worlds foremost seahorse experts. Amanda Vincent highlighted this same need for immediate action in protecting our marine environments. She emphasised how the scientific community shouldn’t use a ‘lack of data’ as an excuse for being over cautious and taking no action. She used a clever medical analogy to drive home her point…when treating patients doctors use all available evidence to treat the condition most effectively, but in cases or conditions where knowledge is lacking they don’t just stand by and do nothing. They use what knowledge they have, however little that might be, to make the best possible decision, because some action (even if there is the threat of it not being totally correct) is often better than taking no action at all. Sometimes conservation NGO's have a tendency to become a little detached from the real world, getting ‘papers published’ but neglecting the activism that is so essential if we are to make changes.
Conservation is foremost about protection but with that comes the need for research. Here in Cambodia we can see clearly that need for conservation every time we go diving, there is a desperate need for direct action and protection of the marine environment.
We also witness this need when we see endangered species for sale in local markets, when we hear dynamite explosions whilst diving, when we see illegal trawling within the delicate habitats of the inshore areas, and when we see the use of cyanide and other destructive fishing techniques on our local reefs and ecosystems. These are all events that bring immediate attention to the need for immediate action.
An example of how our research is used to complement the conservation efforts is in the creation of the new Marine Fisheries Management Area around Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, our socio-demographic survey reports and marine survey reports were used to highlight the most bio-diverse areas and those in need of protection, to be used in the MPA planning process and creation of zoning management maps. With that MPA in place we were invited to do it all over again in another even more sensitive marine environment, the marine habitats of seagrass and coral reef within the south eastern coastal province of Kep. This work is now underway and the beginnings of a new marine fisheries management area and marine protected area are underway. You can read the initial marine assessment reports and summary recommendation reports here.
The need for immediate Pro-active conservation must be coupled with the collection of solid data to prove beyond doubt which actions have are having a detrimental effect on the local ecosystems and also to prove the benefits of any conservation programs. When witnessing first hand the large amount of damage that can be done in a very short time it is easy to understand the need for protection but for anyone not directly witnessing the destruction a need for clear data is essential. When we take action towards marine conservation we need to assess whether an area needs protection, why it needs protection and what it needs protection from. These are just a few of the major questions we need to ask. We need to look at all factors from the obvious to the not so obvious.
Critical thinking is required and science is needed. By investigating marine ecosystems to quantify the biodiversity and abundance of flora and fauna then measure the impact of external activities we can start to draw conclusions about the negative and positive effects each action has on our local marine ecosystems.
Through a scientific monitoring program our team of scientific researchers and trained research divers investigate the marine environmental conditions within specific areas, this information has and is being used to assist the local and national government in their strategy planning for marine conservation and integrated coastal management. As part of our team you will be involved in marine conservation and marine research, this means that during your time with us you will be trained in a number of marine survey methodologies and identification techniques that will allow you to monitor our target sites. Besides learning the methodology of collecting data, you will also learn how to enter and analyse that data. The identification training will allow you to learn about which species live in Cambodian coastal ecosystems and how to recognize them.
For those that develop a passion and want to learn more about marine research further training can be given to take you up to the level of team leader.
Once trained you will join together with other volunteers, interns and specialists and spend time in the field, conducting marine surveys using the scientific techniques you have learnt in order to collect, collate and analyse data on the marine environment. Investigative projects include seahorses surveys, Benthic Surveys, biodiversity and abundance surveys to name a few.
This information once analysed and written up into report form is then submitted to the Cambodian Fisheries Administration and the local Provincial Government, in turn this assists the Royal government of Cambodia in managing and maintaining a sustainable marine environment for future generations.
Our Team is among the few to be out there all the time, doing research and keeping the destruction at bay. We are conducting extensive surveys throughout the coast of Cambodia. In our first 2 years of operation we recorded data from over 1000 different sites and now after 8 years of operation we have extensive experience covering Cambodian marine habitats, ecosystems and marine life, from community socio-demographics to quarterly and yearly reports on marine reef heath, seahorse diversity, abundance and seagrass monitoring we pretty much do it all.
Many of these sites had never been researched or reported on before. We are pushing the boundaries of the known territories in underwater Cambodia! Now we are breaking new ground again after being invited to study a whole new undived and unexplored province.