fish report header

The Mekong at an Environmental Crossroads 

Southeast Asia's Mekong region is one of the world's environmental wonders--but a recent report highlights that much of the area's incredible natural diversity is in danger of being lost. The giant Mekong River teems with a diversity of fish that is second only to the Amazon, and the region's lush tropical forests offer habitat for iconic elephants, tigers, and one of the world's rarest mammals, the deer-like saola. These natural resources also provide food, water, and livelihoods directly to about 70 million people throughout Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, and China's Yunnan and Guangxi provinces. However, the same resources are also eyed as the raw materials needed to fuel the region's rapid economic growth. The World Wide Fund for Nature recently released a report stating that the Greater Mekong Region is at a crossroads. Now is a critical time to decide whether and how to change course and develop the region in a sustainable, environmentally sound way. The very future of the region's wildlife hangs in the balance.


The report reveals a startling fact: in just 26 years (between 1973 and 2009), the Lower Mekong Basin has lost nearly one third of its forest cover. At the heart of the report is a series of maps that depict historical, current, and projected changes in forested areas. These maps suggest huge declines in the habitat of iconic wildlife species, and the prognosis for these animals is poor under current development scenarios. As human population density continues to grow, current rates of unsustainable development could destroy another full third of the area's forestland by 2030. The forces of urbanization and industry encourage clearing forests for building, mining, farming rice, or growing monoculture plantations of eucalyptus, palm oil, or acacia--leaving core forest areas in fragments. The same practices also impact the region's freshwater ecosystems, and climate change threatens to exacerbate the many environmental stressors of development.


However, the report also presents a roadmap for integrating environmental protection into future development. Such planning could help species survive in harmony with a "green economy"--a development scenario that would keep core patches of forest intact, with just 17% converted to other uses. The key will be investing in the protection and sustainable use of the environment as natural capital, rather than focusing on  exploiting and exporting natural resources. This can include developing ecotourism, and capitalizing on the ability of intact forests to store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions--the region's forests currently store more than 320 million tons of carbon (Saatchi et al. 2011). Enforcing environmental laws to protect wildlife and habitats will also be crucial for the future of the region's biodiversity, as will improving regional and international coordination, empowering local communities to participate in decision-making, and strategic restoration. Ultimately, a healthy environment, sustainable economic development, and human well-being are tied to one another. The best solutions will find ways to benefit all three.

Follow Us! Like us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter View our photos on flickr View our videos on YouTube
email list
Recent Blog Post

Life afloat 

Tonle Sap Lake has been  called the heart of the Mekong. This dynamic Cambodian lake is the largest freshwater body in Southeast Asia, and it has been estimated that nearly half of Cambodia's people benefit directly or indirectly from the lake's resources (Keskinen et al. 2005). The unique hydrology of the Tonle Sap is almost entirely powered by the Mekong River downstream. More than half of the water in the lake originates from the mainstream Mekong River, and only about a third of the water originates in the lake's tributaries (Kummu et al. 2013). If you were to visit the lake during the dry season in March, as we did when we snapped these photos, you would see a lake that behaves like most other lakes. At that time of year, the Tonle Sap drains through the 100-km (62-mile) Tonle Sap River, past the country's capitol city, Phnom Penh, and into the mainstream Mekong River.


But if you were to visit the lake during the rainy season,  you would discover an entirely different scenario. Around the end of May, water levels begin to rise in the Mekong River and the river pushes water from the Tonle Sap River back upstream, reversing the flow of the river... Read more > 

IN THE NEWS: Recent stories you might have missed...
Lower Mekong Basin highly vulnerable to climate change
Thomson Reuters Foundation 

Climate change will bring higher temperatures and longer wet seasons to the Lower Mekong Basin, affecting the cultivation of rice and other crops the majority of its 65 million inhabitants rely on for food and income, experts say. "It is one of the most vulnerable watersheds in the world to the threat of global climate change," Paul Hartman, director of the Mekong Adaptation and Resilience to Climate Change Project (Mekong ARCC), told Thomson Reuters Foundation. The Mekong, flowing from the Tibetan plateau to the South China Sea... Read more> 

The challenges of salvaging smelt and other Delta fish 

Capital Public Radio

For decades, millions of fish have been diverted from pumping facilities at state and federal water projects in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Fish - including endangered species like the Delta smelt - are put in holding tanks then trucked to other parts of the Delta and released. From there, little is known about their fate. But most scientists agree it's not good. Predator often wait for what amounts to a daily feeding. Imagine you're an endangered Delta smelt. You're three inches long; you can't swim very well... Read more > 

California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife releases Status of the Fisheries Report
Sierra Sun Times

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recently released the Status of the Fisheries Report: An Update Through 2011, the sixth in a series of status reports required by the Marine Life Management Act. The report summarizes the status of some of California's important marine species. The report also helps CDFW to determine if regulation changes are warranted for any of the state's fisheries. Species are chosen for review for various reasons... Read more >   

Congress urged to take action on Colorado River
Merced Sun-Star

Government officials are urging Congress to consider solutions to deal with possible water shortages in the Colorado River basin that could include finding ways to reduce demand, conservation and better management of water supplies. Other solutions being considered include reuse of water and augmentation from other water sources. At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, officials said a two-year study by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation found the river will not be able to provide enough water for its nearby communities in 50 years... Read more > 

Warming water posing a threat to native trout
Montana Public Radio

Scientists are studying the effects of global climate change from the peaks to the valley floors in Glacier Park. They're also looking in the water. Fisheries Ecologist Clint Muhlfeld with the US Geological Survey said native west slope cutthroat and bull trout are adaptable, they've been adapting to environmental changes for thousands of years.' "However, with existing stressors like invasive species and habitat loss, those things pose, certainly, some challenges to native fish, and climate warming is likely to exacerbate those existing stressors..." Read more >