Endangered Dolphins Strengthen Thai-Cambodia Relations
Globally threatened Irrawaddy dolphins and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins inhabiting the Thai-Cambodian border served as ambassadors to promote the concept of transboundary Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) management.
The 18-month-long transboundary dolphin conservation project between Thailand and Cambodia revealed that the transboundary coastal areas in the Trat, Thailand, and Koh Kong, Cambodia habitats for these dolphins.
Results between 2008 and 2014 estimated the population of the Irrawaddy dolphins at 500, making the Thai-Cambodia transborder population the second largest in the world.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Living Mekong Program, the Irrawaddy River dolphins are "flagship species," as they reflect the overall health of the river for other species. These dolphins can reach a length of nine feet and have blunt, rounded noses.
Reports show that threats for these dolphins include fishing, pollution, and habitat destruction. Gillnets, among other fishing gear, have been the major player in threatening this species. In 2012, a law was passed prohibiting gillnets in large stretches of the Mekong River.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, whereby Irrawaddy dolphins are monitored alongside 71,576 animal and plant species.
In a report by IUCN.org, Brian Smith, Asia coordinator of the IUCN SSC Cetacean Specialist Group and project technical adviser, said, "Unfortunately, these dolphins are in trouble. Many die when they get entangled in fishing gear, particularly gillnets."
To further their conservation project, officials revealed that dolphin watching into ecotourism program in Trat and Koh Kong will be implemented. This program aims to educate and raise awareness for the conservation and protection of such threatened species. They also hope to improve the livelihoods of fishermen who were affected by the dolphin management zones. IUCN partnered with WWF with the Save our Species fund which educates and trains rangers to monitor gillnet fishing in the Mekong.