Progress in dolphin survey for improved conservation

18 December 2013 | Article

On 23 October, a training course was arranged in Koh Kong by the Department of Environment (DoE), the Fisheries Administration (FiA) and IUCN Cambodia. It was facilitated by Dr Brian Smith from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Saisunee Chaksuin who is a dolphin conservation expert with of IUCN Southeast Asia group. The participants included government staff from the DoE, FiA, the Provincial Hall, IUCN staff, and local community members from Koh Kapik and the Peam Krasop Commune. This course followed the pre-survey conducted in July 2013 to scope the Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary (PKWS) in Cambodia and the neighbouring coastal area for dolphins.

Saisunee Chaksuin, dolphin conservation expert, IUCN Southeast Asia Group, said, “It was exciting for me to be a part of the participatory dolphin survey in Koh Kong. The face of the fisher is the same in Thailand and Cambodia – they have the same pressures and encounter common concerns.”

Conducted during the training course, the initial spot survey covered Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary and the area adjacent to it. As part of the survey, there is a larger plan to cover a 100 km-long area along the canal, river and open sea. The training sessions aimed to familiarise participants with how to use devices for tracking and monitoring dolphins such as GPS, binoculars and other environmental equipment. This was followed up with practical application; where field observations took place over the ten days.

While inaugurating the course, Man Phalla, Director of Department of Environment, Koh Kong stated, “The Department of Environment together with Fisheries Administration and other stakeholders will join hands to develop the Management Plan by integrating data from the survey to ensure sustainable management in Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary. The result can also be the evidence to show the community about dolphins as precious gifts and develop their ownership and participatory management in dolphin conservation.”

During the very first day of the survey, two dolphin species were recorded - the Irrawaddy and the Finless Porpoise. Around 15-18 Irrawaddy dolphins were spotted during the field surveys; considered to be a good number. One dolphin calf was also seen; indicative of an overall healthy ecosystem. The Deputy Governor of Koh Kong, Mr Say Socheat, attended the field survey on the boat over two days. For many, it was their first time seeing dolphins.

The data from the survey is very important for the Koh Kong Management Plan. Hun Marady, Deputy Director of the Department of Environment, Koh Kong said, “Dolphins are one of the world’s most endangered animals. The survey will improve our conservation work to maintain the remaining dolphins. In addition, the presence of dolphins is an indicator of a healthy environment and lots of tourists wish to see them. So the results of the survey will improve our efforts in protecting the environment, and at the same time, it will help the community to generate income through ecotourism.”

Despite the good presence of dolphins in the area, there are some threats they face. A considerable amount of sand mining has been taking place as well as extensive water transportation. These are noisy processes which disturb dolphins’ communications underwater. A lot of fishing has also been taking place in the open sea and dolphins often get caught in nets. Therefore, the survey is vital for better conservation activities.

After ten days of field work, the participants were more experienced in using environmental survey equipment and were also better able to scientifically record information. During the survey, GPS was used to plot the points where dolphins were spotted and these will be use for future reference when the survey continues. The survey will resume in the dry season that lasts from January till April 2014.

By Ria Sen and Chenda Say