On the Mekong River, north of the town of Stung Treng in northeastern Cambodia, and below the border with Laos, lies an area of riverine seasonally flooded forest designated as a Ramsar wetland site because of its exceptional biodiversity and uniqueness. The cumulative impacts of numerous upstream hydropower dams in China and Laos are destroying this vital ecosystem due to the release of increased amounts of water during the dry season, preventing the flooded forest from experiencing its critically important drying out period. In this paper, we investigate the damage being wrought on these flooded forests, and on the various animal species that depend on them. Different species have been affected differently, but some have been significantly impacted. Others are being increasingly affected. This loss of important habitat is having a significant impact on fisheries, especially for a number of Pangasiidae catfish and cyprinid carps. New dams upriver, and continued high dry-season water releases from existing dams, are likely to lead to the continued degradation and possibly the complete eradication of the flooded forests along the mainstream Mekong River in the coming years, unless serious measures are taken to address the problem.
Dr. Ian Baird is a professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as well as the CKS Senior Research Fellow. His research interests are broad, but include political ecology, political geography, large-scale dam construction in the Mekong River Basin, Mekong fisheries management, Indigenous peoples, and agrarian change in mainland Southeast Asia. He has a particular interest in marginalized peoples. His most recent book, Rise of the Brao: Ethnic Minorities in Northeastern Cambodia during Vietnamese Occupation, was published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 2020, and was recently the recipient of the 2nd runner-up for the 2022 EuroSEAS book prize (humanities).
Dr. Eve Zucker, CKS President