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Closer look: Designing Cambodia’s first large marine protected area

Overlooking Koh Rong beaches. Credit: Phallin Chea/FFI.
Written by: Gurveena Ghataure
Other posts by Gurveena Ghataure

Cambodia’s waters are home to an abundance of important habitats ranging from coral reefs and seagrass meadows to mangrove forests. These ecosystems support a rich variety of marine life, including many charismatic species such as Irrawaddy dolphins, hawksbill and green turtles.

Cambodia’s marine environment plays an important socio-economic role; fishing and related activities are crucial for coastal economies, and fish is an essential part of people’s diet in Cambodia, accounting for over three quarters of the animal protein consumed.

Unfortunately, years of political turmoil and economic instability have severely constrained the capacity of government and research institutions to effectively conserve the country’s marine environment, and today Cambodia’s coastline faces major threats.

Studies have identified a low abundance of commercially-valuable reef fish and invertebrates (such as groupers and lobsters) in Cambodia’s coastal waters, which strongly indicates overfishing. Destructive fishing methods, sedimentation, coral bleaching and poorly planned coastal development have also been identified as key pressures on the marine environment.

Given the importance of Cambodia’s marine resources and the scale of the threats they face, effective conservation has never been so important. Recognising this, the Royal Government of Cambodia has made a commitment under the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect 10% of its marine and coastal eco-regions by 2020.

A new marine protected area for Cambodia

As part of this work, the government’s Fisheries Administration is in the process of designating the country’s first large marine protected area (known in Cambodia as a Marine Fisheries Management Area), which aims to ensure that fishery resources are managed sustainably while also encouraging tourism, reducing poverty and maintaining biodiversity.

The protected area will encompass approximately 340 km2 around the Koh Rong Archipelago which lies 20 km off the coastal town of Sihanoukville in the Gulf of Thailand. At the moment, around 60-80% of people in nearby communities are engaged in fishing or related activities, so careful planning is needed to ensure that fisheries management is combined with other development objectives (such as harnessing the potential for tourism revenue) and conservation goals.

Pink anemonefish. Credit: Rachel Austin/FFI.

Reef species like these pink anemonefish can attract dive tourists from far and wide. Credit: Rachel Austin/FFI.

If properly designed and managed, the new protected area will not only contribute to the conservation of valuable marine habitats and threatened species, but will also help to ensure ongoing food security for people living in the region and improve livelihoods through sustainable fisheries management.

Working together to maximise the benefits

To ensure that the new protected area achieves its full potential, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been working in partnership with Coral Cay Conservation and the Song Saa Foundation to help the Fisheries Administration with the effective design, implementation and evaluation of the area. In 2012, the UK government announced that this was to be one of five FFI projects to receive substantial funding through the Darwin Initiative and the project also benefits from generous funding from the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation.

As well as building government capacity for marine conservation, FFI is working directly alongside the Fisheries Administration to establish a zoning scheme and management plan for the proposed protected area and create a management committee for the site.

To achieve all of this, it is clear that we must collaborate with island developers and communities. We are therefore engaging with businesses to promote responsible development, involving them in the design of the protected area and exploring new opportunities for the development of partnerships that can support sustainable local economies.

At the same time, we are building the capacity of community-based organisations (known as ‘community fisheries’) representing local marine resource users so that these small-scale fisheries become the pillars for the sustainable management of the protected area’s resources.

A sustainable future for Cambodia’s marine environment

Experience tells us that one of the most important steps in designing a strong marine protected area is to include all stakeholders in the planning process and garner their support.

Our work with the Fisheries Agency and local partners will therefore help ensure that this new protected area benefits coastal conservation in the most effective way possible.

In the longer term, our work to build the capacity of the Cambodian government’s Fisheries Administration will help ensure that they have the tools they need to continue their important work to ensure a healthy future for Cambodia’s marine ecosystems and the people who depend on them.

Written by
Gurveena Ghataure

Other posts by Gurveena Ghataure

Experience tells us that one of the most important steps in designing a strong marine protected area is to include all stakeholders in the planning process and garner their support.

Gurveena Ghataure

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