In Cambodia’s Tonle Sap lake region, local people are making the rules to protect the freshwater that is necessary for their survival.
“Each community fishery has different rules and regulations depending on the real situation in those places,” says Sitha Prum, of Cambodia’s, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. “They can create, manage and monitor their own fisheries domain.”
Some 1.2 million people directly depend on Tonle Sap for food and freshwater. That number is increasing as more families facing poverty in other regions of the country move to the lake to fish for income and food, Prum says.
The lake and flooded forest, which cover more than 479,000 hectares (about 1 million acres) in the wet season, faces tremendous threats, including the construction of several hydroelectric dams and rampant deforestation.
Conservation International (CI) works with the Cambodian government and local communities to establish community fish sanctuaries to protect the lake’s biodiversity and benefit the local people.
“This is a new model for freshwater protection, connecting benefits of sustainable stocks, access to fish and maintaining water quality,” says Tracy Farrell, CI senior director of strategic projects.
With partners Wetlands International and the Nature Conservancy, Farrell will lead a workshop on biodiversity conservation and freshwater services during the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
DIG DEEPER: Explore Cambodia with our freshwater RAP team.
Freshwater flash points are increasing worldwide as the global population grows and consumption outpaces conservation measures. Only one percent of the Earth’s fresh water flows freely. And 70 percent of the fresh water available is used for agriculture.
Already, one of every six people on Earth has no access to clean drinking water. At the same time, freshwater ecosystems’ species extinction rates are 15 times higher than in the oceans.
“The global freshwater crisis will be the next climate change in terms of magnitude and urgency,” says Farrell.
For freshwater worldwide, climate change is another serious looming threat.
“Less rainfall in China will lead to less flooding in the Mekong River in downstream countries, which could have devastating effects on the Cambodian and Vietnam rice production, fish yields and freshwater supplies,” says David Emmet, regional director for CI’s Indo-Burma Program.
“Rising sea levels would leave most of the Mekong Delta submerged, leading to a catastrophic reduction in rice production.”
In Cambodia and elsewhere, the poorest communities depend on natural ecosystems for their fresh water. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, coastal tourism development and a population boom are taking a tremendous toll on the region’s underground freshwater.
LEARN MORE: The freshwater turtles of Asia are under increasing threat.
“Water was sacred to the Maya people – one of their most revered deities was Chac, the rain god. The mysterious underground waterways and caves of the Yucatan Peninsula … now more than ever are vital to the well-being of the people of Mexico’s Caribbean coast,” says Gonzalo Merediz, director of Amigos de Sian Ka’an (ASK), CI’s local partner organization.
“The porous limestone bedrock underlying the region is like a giant piece of Swiss cheese; rainwater percolates into the ground to feed underground aquifers,” says Jim Barborak, director of Protected Areas and Corridor Conservation with CI’s Mexico and Central America Field Division.
The tourism boom and population growth in Quintana Roo State, says Barborak, contribute to increased water demand, contaminated runoff and poorly treated sewage that threaten the state’s groundwater and the coral reefs – and eventually, the sustainability of its tourism-driven economy.
“We are sending divers into the caves and water-filled sinkholes called cenotes to conduct rapid biological assessments,” says Barborak. With that data, ASK and CI will present conservation strategies to the Mexican government to protect the unique species, including blind, cave-adapted fishes and crustaceans, as well as the groundwater that is so important to local people and the Mexican economy.
With ASK and the Coral Reef Alliance, CI is working with the tourism industry and government agencies to reduce water use and ensure adequate sewage treatment, and developing guidelines for water conservation and waste treatment by cruise lines and hotels.
PARTNERS: CI works with lots of non-governmental organizations, corporations and local communities to accomplish conservation successes.