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CI research helps to block road plan, save fisheries

One of the world’s most productive freshwater fisheries, Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake directly supports the livelihoods of more than 1.2 million people.

So when Conservation International (CI) learned in May 2014 about the Cambodian government’s plan to build a new road through the northern part of the lake — which would block fish migration and consequently diminish food supplies and jobs — CI scientists and partners took action aimed at freezing funding for the project.


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      EditImage Description:Akal village, in the middle of Tonle Sap. Site of the CI-sponsored Fish Sanctuary and Biodiversity Protection Project (FSBPP)

      Within six months, CI Greater Mekong, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Cambodia-based Technical Working Group on Fisheries prepared a policy brief outlining the road’s environmental and economic costs to Tonle Sap and presented it to the Asian Development Bank — which immediately withdrew support for the road’s development.

      Why? The proposed road would have shortened the journey from Siem Reap, a popular resort town, to Battambang, where French colonial architecture and nearby ancient temples attract tourists, by up to an hour and a half — but at the expense of up to 205,000 hectares of flooded forest and scrublands (habitats for 20 globally threatened and near-threatened species), as well as nine community fisheries. One of those fisheries alone brings in an annual catch worth US$ 3.2 million and supports 1,700 households.

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      To CI and our partners, the road — projected to cost upwards of US$ 100 million — did not make much economic sense, either. As an alternative to building a brand new road, the policy brief urged the Asian Development Bank to spend that money on improving two existing national roads that have not been maintained — a solution that protects the ecosystems and livelihoods of Tonle Sap while also boosting the flow of tourists to Siem Reap and Battambang.

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      EditQuote Text (Do not add quotation marks):This outcome is a great demonstration of why scientific research matters and what a strong argument it provides. For the people of Cambodia, it means these fisheries will endure to support local livelihoods and the nation’s broader fisheries sector, and the area’s rich species have one less threat to deal with.
      EditQuote Attribution:Tracy Farrell, regional director of CI Greater Mekong
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