Member of the Lao National Working Group for the Mekong Water Dialogues, Ms Phetlavanh Sinpaseuth from Earth Systems Lao, writes about a recent field trip and training workshop on the importance of environmental flows, organized by IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
From 1-4 November 2011, the National Working Groups (NWG) for the Mekong Water Dialogues (MWD) joined a field trip and workshop in Khao Lak, Thailand. Participants in the Environmental Flows Training Workshop included about fifty members from the Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam NWGs as well as representatives from other environmental organizations and governments in Southeast Asia.
A field trip on November 2nd allowed us to experience the richness of environmental and natural resources in Kuraburi, Phang Nga Province, Thailand. Participants had the opportunity to find learn more about what local environmentalists do, through hands-on experience and discussions with experts and local people involved in plant conservation, mangrove rehabilitation and other projects.
Mr. Somsak Soonthornnawaphat, from IUCN Thailand, showed the group a local project to protect the Water Onion (Crinum thaianum), or ‘plub plueng nam’ in Thai, a popular aquarium plant, which is native to the Andaman coastal provinces of Ranong and Phang Nga. The plant has white lily-like flowers and is popular for decoration. They are sold around Thailand, and exported mainly to Singapore and the United States of America.
The Water Onion is on the IUCN Red List of near-extinct plants. IUCN conducted surveys over the past five years and found the plant nowadays growing only in canals in Ranong's Kapoe and Kuraburi districts. Since then, they have worked with local organizations to help conserve the plant.
On 3-4 November, the NWG members joined the Environmental Flows Training Workshop and a regional NWG meeting on the MWD Work Plans and budgets for 2012 in the four countries. The objective of the training was to better understand the links between river flow regimes and economic, social and ecological impacts.
The trainers also introduced methods for assessment, requirements and practical approaches for applying environmental flows, and discussed with participants ideas for strengthening and utilizing the Global Environmental Flows Network (eFlowNet).
Ms Fiona Chandler, from the International Water Centre in Brisbane, Australia, gave a presentation on the importance of river health, river maintenance, environmental values and assessment, with interesting examples from rivers in Queensland and China where river information and health indicators were measured and presented in different ways.
Mr Stefano Barchiesi, from the IUCN Water Programme and eFlowNet, also asked the participants for their ideas about the network’s plans, goals and priority actions. The Lao participants stated that there is a need for international expertise to provide training, as well as case studies, such as for water catchments and wetland management and for hydropower projects. Priority activities for the E-Flows Network include sharing data and exchanging information, such as on the variety of e-flow reports in South East Asian countries.
In conclusion, the participants in the field trip and workshop gained a lot of knowledge and information about environmental flows, river health, and practical approaches for managing waterways and their flora and fauna.