FFI has been working on marine conservation in Cambodia since 2010, with a programme of work that has evolved from an initial government request to help establish the country’s first marine protected area, known in Cambodia as a Marine Fisheries Management Area (MFMA). This site was formally designated in June 2016 and takes a multiple-use approach that supports sustainable fishing, biodiversity conservation and tourism.

Our work to date has incorporated baseline biological and socio-economic surveys, monitoring, capacity building, training and awareness raising, as well as management planning. During this time, strong local and national links have been made with communities, fishers, local NGOs and government. The strength of these relationships and the momentum created by the MFMA designation offers an unprecedented opportunity not only to makes the site a model of best practice, but also to ignite significant change in the management and protection of Cambodia’s marine environment.

Supporting community fisheries

While continuing to work with community fisheries inside Cambodia’s new marine protected area, FFI is also now working with a new community fishery in the Koh Sdach Archipelago, adopting the same approach of using community-led resource management to drive better protection and management. This site boasts impressive coral reefs and has been identified as a national hotspot for sea turtles, but it is suffering from the effects of overfishing and illegal fishing –both of which the project will look to address over the next few years. The project will support the community fishery in identifying areas of the archipelago that are critical fishing grounds and those that could be no-fish areas to help habitat and stocks to recover.

Protecting Cambodia’s seahorses

A seahorse hotspot has been identified around a small island in the Koh Rong Archipelago with no fewer than six different species of seahorse recorded at this site. The area remains an important diving site in the archipelago, increasingly so for macro divers (those interested in observing smaller marine life such as seahorses); however, these charismatic animals are increasingly being targeted for use in the traditional Asian medicine trade. To make matters worse, growing pressure from bottom-towed fishing gear, underpinned by poor fisheries regulation, means that an unsustainable number of seahorses are being removed from the ocean each year – both deliberately and as bycatch. FFI is conducting trade surveys and underwater assessments to understand the impact that this growing pressure is having on wild seahorse populations. Building on this knowledge, we will work with local NGOs and community fisheries to run a social marketing campaign in order to generate awareness of, and pride in, this flagship species and to identify areas that should be better protected.

Implementing a national sea turtle species action plan

FFI has been working with the Fisheries Administration to assess the threats to, and distribution and status of, sea turtles in Cambodia. Through interviews, provincial consultation workshops and national workshops, the team has collated information to create a status report for sea turtles and draft the country’s first National Species Action Plan for sea turtles.

The action plan provides a road map to help guide activities for future interventions that will promote the recovery of hawksbill and green turtles. We will ensure that important turtle foraging habitats and potential nesting beaches are well protected by inclusion in marine protected area planning and will also be working towards more sustainably managed fisheries.

Tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing

FFI has been providing technical input to the Fisheries Administration and supporting policy change as the Cambodian government creates a national plan of action for tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Over the next few years, FFI will provide targeted responses to IUU fishing within the Koh Rong Archipelago, making the marine protected area (officially designated as a ‘marine fisheries management area’) a best practice model for national marine management. In parallel we will continue to engage with national government in order to address critical data gaps in current fisheries management, which in turn will help with the implementation of the national plan of action.