World Oceans Day marks Cambodian conservation success

Cambodia celebrates World Oceans Day today, Sunday 8 June, by focusing on efforts to conserve the region’s unique marine environment.

With Cambodia’s first Marine Fisheries Management Area (MFMA) due to be approved for the waters of the Koh Rong Archipelago later this year, the Royal Government of Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration (FiA) and their partners are leading the way for marine management.

As part of World Oceans Day festivities, the FiA’s Director General, His Excellency Dr Nao Thuok, will participate in activities highlighting some of the innovative conservation work being undertaken in the archipelago. This will include visits to local marine conservation projects, the premiere of the Coral Cay Conservation’s documentary on the archipelago’s marine life, an inspection of the Song Saa marine reserve, and the presentation of a new patrol boat, funded by the UK government, to a local fisheries committee.

Beach cleaning activities from last years World Oceans Day activities in Cambodia. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI

Beach cleaning activities from 2013 World Oceans Day activities in Cambodia. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI

Conservation organisations working within the archipelago, include Conservation Cambodia, Coral Cay Conservation (CCC) and Fauna & Flora International (FFI). The results of these projects have been impressive, including support for community fishery patrols, the creation of artificial reefs and the extensive surveying and monitoring of marine habitats around the archipelago’s islands, which have assisted in the creation of the first MFMAs.

FFI has been collaborating with the FiA and CCC since 2012 to provide support to those promoting marine conservation in the archipelago.

Describing the programme, Berry Mulligan, Coastal and Marine Project Manager at FFI says, “Given that around 60-80% of people in communities around the archipelago are engaged in fishing or related activities, 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.

“By bringing together the different stakeholders and working with community fishery groups, we can make sure that the new marine fisheries management area not only conserves threatened habitats species but also supports improved livelihoods and ongoing food security for people living in the region.”

Mangrove planting during last years World Oceans Day in Cambodia. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI

Mangrove planting during 2013 World Oceans Day in Cambodia. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI

Ouk Vibol, Director of the FiA’s Department of Fisheries Conservation and the man responsible for leading the creation of the proposed Marine Fisheries Management Area, is excited about the conservation efforts within the archipelago and the opportunities that the new designated area will mean for Cambodia’s marine environment: “The MFMA would help drive sustainable fishing activities of the community, protect biodiversity and promote ecotourism, all of which contribute to achieve the goal of the Fisheries Sector. He also mentioned that this is a good management model as many stakeholders, including Development partners, Private Sector, local authorities and the local community are working together to manage the fisheries resource for sustainable use.”

Song Saa Private Island has also helped promote marine conservation in the archipelago, and in 2006 established the country’s first private marine reserve in the waters surrounding its groundbreaking resort. In 2013, the Song Saa Foundation was created by the company to carry this work forward and today, it exists as an advocate for the preservation of Cambodia’s marine environment.

Dr Wayne McCallum, Executive Director of the Song Saa Foundation added, “The reefs around Song Saa Private Island have come back impressively since our marine reserve was created. Fish numbers have increased markedly as have some of the other creatures traditionally overharvested by fishers, including sea cucumbers and giant clams. Seeing the abundance of life at low tide is one of the thrills of working with Song Saa.”

Song Saa Island. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI

Song Saa Island. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI

Summarising this work, Chief of the Prek Svay community fisheries committee, Mr Rearn Veasna emphasised the value of a collaborative approach to marine conservation in the archipelago: “I am really happy to conserve my marine area. It is really important to do conservation in my area because this can increase marine animal numbers. This will provide jobs for my community members and they can earn money from fishing to feed their family. I believe that illegal fishing activities will also decrease. In next five years I hope that marine animal numbers will increase under our conservation and communities members can earn more income from fishing. There is also potential for increased tourism when they come to visit the village and see the marine resource such as corals and mangroves. We have to continue our management in the conservation area.”

With commitment from the Royal Government of Cambodia and partners, and financial support from the Darwin Initiative and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, the future for the new Marine Fisheries Management Area and the Koh Rong Archipelago, today, shines with hope.