“Seahorse! There’s a seahorse here!” As this excited cry sounded, a number of snorkellers converged on the spot, eager for a glimpse of one of these secretive and threatened creatures which lurk, perfectly camouflaged, amongst green blades of seagrass.
The exciting search for seahorses happened as part of an exchange visit, with Fauna & Flora International’s (FFI) marine team from Myanmar travelling to meet FFI Cambodia staff, government figures and community members in September 2018. Participants from both countries took the opportunity to share successes in their respective marine conservation projects, and swap ideas for potential solutions to ongoing issues.
As part of their visit, six Myanmar representatives (some of whom were travelling abroad for the first time) participated in a snorkelling trip to see the seagrass meadows we are working with fishing communities to protect. Amongst many exciting species, including pipefish, jellyfish and hermit crabs, the seahorses were the favourite sighting. This was a particularly special moment for Cheata from FFI Cambodia and Muyar Aye from the Myanmar team, who were lucky enough to find a seahorse during their first ever snorkelling experience.
A visit to explore Cambodia’s vital seagrass habitats was just one part of a busy week of exchange activities. This momentous event brought the Myanmar and Cambodia marine teams together for the first time to learn lessons and improve connections between FFI’s focal countries for ocean conservation in Southeast Asia. Our Myanmar colleagues travelled from Yangon to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, before making the long drive south to the coast and hopping on a boat to reach FFI’s project sites, hidden in the picturesque surroundings of Koh Rong and Koh Rang Sanloem.
During the visit, FFI staff were joined by representatives of the Cambodian Fisheries Administration, who kindly supported our activities and shared their experiences of fisheries management. Also in attendance were members of the Community Fisheries organisations supported by FFI to patrol and enforce local fishing areas in Koh Rong and another project site on the island of Koh Sdach.
FFI’s marine team in Myanmar work primarily in the Myeik archipelago, a remote collection of 800 islands in the nation’s far south. Despite being situated in different countries and separated by hundreds of miles, the Myanmar team’s visit to Cambodia highlighted many similarities between the two programmes. Rampant illegal fishing, particularly from trawlers, is a major issue in both countries, jeopardising the livelihoods of local small-scale fishers and threatening diverse species and habitats, from seahorses and seagrass to turtles and coral reefs.
New understanding of this and other shared problems presented opportunities for shared solutions, with FFI’s Phallin Chea demonstrating SMART patrol techniques to our Myanmar colleagues, including Kyaw Zayya who will be working to apply a similar approach in Myeik. Phallin showcased how Cambodian communities use technology and locally-based patrolling to keep an eye on their fishing grounds, reporting and deterring illegal activities. In turn, Soe Thiha, from the Myanmar team, shared best practice from a successful ‘crab bank’ pilot initiative in Myeik, with the aim of helping to overcome issues encountered during trials of similar concepts in Koh Rong.
It is hoped that FFI’s Cambodia and Myanmar marine programmes will be strengthened by the exchange of knowledge which occurred during this trip, with success stories from each country benefiting marine conservation in the other. We look forward to hearing how new ideas are embraced and put into action as the teams return to their project sites. Finally, we thank Fondation Segre, Arcadia (a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin), the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and the Fisheries Administration of Cambodia for their support of this hugely successful exchange visit.