WWF commends new protection plan for critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins

Posted on 25 August 2012  | 
Phnom Penh, Cambodia – WWF commends the Cambodian government’s recent approval of a sub-degree for critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River, but cautions that strong efforts are still needed to save the iconic species from extinction. 

“The approval of the sub-degree demonstrates Cambodia’s commitment to reducing threats to rare Mekong dolphins, but to be truly effective it will need the full support of communities along the Mekong. The Dolphin Commission and the Fisheries Administration will also need strong backing from the government and international donors to support enforcement,” says Ms Michelle Owen, WWF-Cambodia’s Acting Country Director.

The new measures include outright bans on gill nets, fish cages and human settlements in floating houses within a 180-kilometere safe zone along the Cambodian stretch of the Mekong. While fishing will still be permitted in the area, the ban on techniques that are particularly damaging to Irrawaddy dolphins is a crucial step that will help the species bounce back.

“Entanglement in gill nets is a major contributing factor in Irrawaddy dolphin deaths – a ban on the use of fishing techniques that harm these rare freshwater dolphins will significantly reduce mortality rates, while still allowing local communities to maintain their livelihoods,” said Ms Michelle Owen.

To reduce the dependence of local communities on fishery resources WWF and key partners have implemented a series of alternative livelihood programs along the Mekong River. These livelihood programs include aquaculture, livestock raising, vegetable growing, and community based ecotourism.

Irrawaddy dolphins are found throughout Southeast Asia, with riverine populations now restricted to the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, the Mahakam River in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), and the Mekong River in Cambodia and southern Lao PDR. Research by WWF and the Cambodian Fisheries Administration indicates that only about 85 dolphins remain in the Mekong River.

The Cambodian government has taken a big step toward conserving this species and this is a great opportunity for stakeholders all across the country to join together to save the Irrawaddy dolphin – the smiling face of the Mekong.
This Irrawaddy dolphin was photographed swimming in the Mekong River when the WWF-Fisheries Administration's research team conducted photo-identification survey in March this year.
© WWF-Cambodia / Gerry Ryan Enlarge

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