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Cambodia’s Coasts Building a sustainable future for Cambodia’s coastal and marine environment

Cambodia’s Coasts Building a sustainable future for Cambodia’s coastal and marine environment

All text within this book © Fauna & Flora International, 2016. Created by Jeremy Holden/FFI & Marianne Teoh/FFI. Photography © Paul Colley, Jeremy Holden & Marianne Teoh/FFI.


Acknowledgements This book is illustrated by a unique collection of photographs showcasing the splendour of the Kingdom’s coasts. It was created by Fauna & Flora International Cambodia Programme’s Coastal and Marine Conservation Project, which supports the government, local communities and NGOs to secure a healthy future for Cambodia’s coastal environment. We would like to thank official project partners, which include Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration, Song Saa Foundation and the Royal University of Phnom Penh, and project funders which include Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, Darwin Initiative, Arcadia and the US Fish & Wildlife Service, without whom none of this work would be possible. Finally, we would like to thank all the individuals, organisations and communities across Cambodia that are working hard to ensure a sustainable future for Cambodia’s coastal and marine environment.


































Cambodia’s coastline stretches along 440 km of shore and includes over 60 islands. Steaming tropical forest meets dazzling blue seas. Sandy shores, sheltered bays, islands, mangroves and coral reefs reach out from the Kingdom’s coast into the Gulf of Thailand. Many of the images and examples in this book have come from the Koh Rong Archipelago. This collection of seven tropical islands scattered across waters in southwest Cambodia was declared a Marine Fisheries Management Area in 2016 – the nation’s first large-scale marine protected area. Boasting pristine beaches, traditional fishing villages and winding rivers lined by twisting mangroves, it is easy to fall in love with Cambodia’s coasts.








CONNECTED HABITATS Cambodia’s coast supports diverse and complex natural habitats. Colourful, fragile coral reefs thrive beneath the waves, seagrass meadows fringe the shallows and productive, resilient mangrove forests guard the coastlines. These ecosystems are interconnected. Together, they support wildlife and provide food and resources to coastal communities across Cambodia.





Seagrass meadows are a cradle for marine life. These flowering plants form dense underwater grasslands that provide food and shelter to an incredibly diverse community of animals. Tiny invertebrates, enigmatic seahorses, grazing green turtles and even dugongs rely on these lush meadows for survival. Seagrasses play an important biological role as a nursery and refuge for young fish and invertebrates during vulnerable life stages. They also play a physical role, trapping sediment, keeping the water clear and reducing coastal erosion. Though they often receive little attention, seagrasses are one of the most productive and biologically important ecosystems on earth.



MANGROVES Lining coastlines across Cambodia, mangrove forests are a natural coastal defence. Their remarkably well-adapted root systems anchor into the sediment, buffering storms and preventing coastal erosion. Tangled roots bury into rich sediment, providing a secure home for thousands of life forms and acting as natural nurseries for marine life such as commercially important shrimp, crabs and fish. The dense canopies and protective root systems of mangroves provide a home for wildlife. Tropical birds such as the Oriental pied hornbill and the threatened Malaysian plover can be seen, while the salt-tolerant crab-eating frog hides among the intricate root systems.




Coral reefs are vital to life. Globally, they cover less than 0.1% of the ocean seabed, yet they are home to over 25% of marine species. Reefs in Cambodia tend to be shallow fringing reefs, home to small cryptic animals as well as large schools of fish upon which local fishermen depend. Corals are made of many tiny animals called polyps, which can draw energy from the sun using single-celled algae that live within their bodies. Each polyp uses this energy to create the large hard structures we know as the coral reef, building complex ecosystems that incredible and diverse reef animals call home.


Cambodia’s reefs are home to fascinating animals. Above: an anemonefish hides in a stinging anemone. Opposite clockwise from left: A Christmas tree worm reaches out to absorb food from the water; a pair of pink anemonefish peer out of their protective home; a nudibranch - a colourful sea slug - feeds from the ocean floor; an anemone draws in its tentacles in defence.




Cambodia’s underwater world is alive with activity. Schools of fish, food for fishermen and prey to larger marine animals, are found in the deep sea, around coral reefs and in protective waters around a man-made pier. Swimming together in shoals gives fish a survival advantage, helping the shoal share information while confusing and avoiding predators. This social behaviour may seem choreographed, but it is in fact an instinctive skill that can increase hydrodynamic efficiency and boost chances of finding a mate.


LIFE BENEATH THE WAVES Above: an anemone shrimp. Opposite clockwise from left: a blue-spotted ribbon-tailed ray; a copperband butterflyfish; a nudibranch (sea slug) with orange-white markings; a yellow Christmas tree worm living in a coral; an orange-spotted spinefoot (rabbitfish); a giant clam; a chocolate chip or ‘horned’ seastar; an octopus. 23


The reefs are home to spectacular wildlife that is essential for maintaining the health of the ecosystem. Filter feeders such giant clams, sponges, and feather duster worms abound on reefs, replenishing and clarifying the seawater to let in the light, allowing the reef to thrive.





Life thrives on Cambodia’s coasts. The coastal and marine environment is one of Cambodia’s greatest resources, with supreme value both culturally and economically. Fishers in Cambodia live intimately with the ocean, relying on it to earn their living. The vast majority of people in coastal communities are dependent upon the ocean, with their livelihoods being derived from fishing for both household consumption and for trade.


TRADITIONAL FISHING PRACTICES Fishing is the way of life for coastal families across Cambodia. Casting their lines, nets and traps for fish, squid and crab, fishermen have knowledge and experience of the ocean that only comes with practice. Living in rhythm with the sea gives an understanding of the ocean that visiting researchers and tourists can only glimpse at. It is vital that local communities - those that live closest to the sea - are the ones to develop meaningful solutions for marine protection and fisheries management.





FACING THE CHALLENGES These are challenging times for tropical coastlines around the world, and Cambodia is no exception. Marine life and coastal livelihoods in Cambodia are under threat from destructive fishing, overexploitation, poor waste management, plastic pollution and unsustainable coastal development. Combined with the threat of a changing global climate, it has never been a more important time to understand the challenges and enact solutions. The increasing global demand for seafood has pushed the oceans to their limit. Coastal habitats and marine life live together in a delicate balance – a balance that is rapidly shifting due to unregulated human activities.



EXPLOITING THE SEA Globally, humans have become too successful at exploiting the marine realm. Overfishing has caused alarming declines in biodiversity and fisheries resources around the globe as well as in Cambodia, while destructive fishing - using explosives, or cyanide poison - has been devastating coral reef habitats. As coastal populations and economies grow, demand for fish increases. This ever-increasing pressure on fisheries resources must be managed effectively, sustainably and locally to ensure food and livelihoods for future generations. 36



Once assumed as too deep and vast to be harmed by dumped waste, our once flourishing oceans are on the brink of collapse. Shoreline degradation has been accelerating, due to farming or industry run-off and development of coastal cities, towns and villages. Chemical pollution, solid pollution and even noise pollution can have devastating effects on coastal biodiversity. Plastics, a man-made pollutant, are the bane of the seas. Collecting in the ocean, they are consumed by small organisms and introduced into the food chain. Plastic bags, bottles, straws and foam dumped into the ocean are mistaken for food and are consumed, often with fatal effects, by marine animals like fish, birds and turtles.



GHOST FISHING Long after it has been abandoned, discarded fishing gear smothers and kills coral, damages mangroves and catches marine life such as fish and turtles. This is known as ‘ghost fishing’. Waste nets, lines and traps continue to deplete fish stocks, without anyone benefiting from the catches. This is a significant issue in Cambodian waters. Waste management and fishing recycling programmes can have meaningful benefits in reducing the ‘ghost gear’ found in local seas, forming an important part of sustainable fisheries management programmes.


CLIMATE CHANGE It is often those living intimately with the sea who are the most vulnerable to a changing climate. Storms will become more unpredictable and intense, sea levels will rise and flooding will increase; while warming, acidifying oceans will threaten the coral reefs upon which marine resources depend. We cannot reliably predict the way climate change might impact natural systems or humankind. It is therefore critical that we find ways to maximise ecosystem and community resilience in areas that are likely to be most affected.







SEAHORSES Due to their curious features and unusual swimming position, seahorses have a unique fascination. For centuries many cultures believed them to hold magical and medicinal properties, leading to targeted fishing and global trade of seahorses. This harvesting, together with habitat loss and pollution, has caused seahorse populations around the planet to decline. Until recently, very little was known about seahorses in Cambodia. Surveys around the Koh Rong Archipelago have discovered that the Kingdom’s waters are home to an unusually high diversity of seahorses, with perhaps more species to be discovered. These slow-moving creatures are monogamous, mate for life, and produce young at slow rate with males bearing the unborn young. These features make them unique but particularly susceptible and in need of protection.




SEA TURTLES Sea turtles once roamed Cambodia waters in abundance. Harvesting of their meat and eggs has been causing numbers to decline, while plastics choke their seas, coastal developments dominate their nesting beaches and importantly, fishing nets tangle and drown these marine reptiles. Five species of marine turtle were once found in Cambodia’s seas. Now, populations have been drastically reduced, with only hawksbill and green turtles regularly recorded. Minimising threats and protecting critical turtle feeding habitats, such as coral reefs and seagrasses, is key to keeping Cambodia’s oceans a home for these charismatic animals.




FACING THE THREATS Cambodia’s marine world is bountiful, but fragile. As the coastal population grows and pressure on marine resources increases, the need for resilient communities and sustainable resource use becomes ever more important. Conservation action always begins by identifying the issues that threaten an ecosystem. Only then can solutions be found - solutions that mitigate threats in a way that benefits both the environment and the people that rely upon it for their livelihoods. Through partnerships, organisations and communities across the country are working to provide these sustainable and realistic conservation solutions, guided by sound science and community needs.



SAFEGUARDING CRITICAL HABITATS & LIVELIHOODS The islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem have been declared a Marine Fisheries Management Area – the first of its kind in Cambodia. This zoned 405 km2 multiple-use marine protected area supports both people and biodiversity, ensuring that vital fishery resources are managed sustainably, while protecting vulnerable habitats, promoting ecotourism and reducing poverty.



HOLISTIC MARINE CONSERVATION Much of the Marine Fisheries Management Area is open to sustainable, traditional fishing reserved for local residents. There are areas under strict year-round protection as no-take zones, with some coastal areas closed for parts of the year to allow young fish to develop. Other protected zones are open to responsible tourism activities such as diving and snorkelling. These zones were created after in-depth consultation with island stakeholders including local communities, businesses and NGOs. Creating the Marine Fisheries Management Area as a zoned marine protected area ensures holistic marine conservation, supporting the local economy and fishing communities as well as the coastal environment.



SUSTAINABLE FISHING Protecting fisheries resources is of paramount importance – without healthy fish populations, coastal families who depend on the seas for food and income would suffer. There is hope in Cambodia. Small-scale local fishermen, primary resource users, are building resilience and taking responsibility for the sustainable management of their community’s marine resources. Communities in the Koh Rong Archipelago have identified and are protecting ‘Fisheries Refugia’ - areas of particular importance for fish populations. This type of management compliments other sustainable management efforts such as the creation of no fishing areas or conservation zones. Sustainable fisheries management in Cambodia involves not only marine science and effective policy, but also, crucially, local engagement and local leadership. With generations of knowledge about the ocean, local fishermen can lead the way.





LOCAL LEADERSHIP Long-lasting conservation measures are often best designed and decided by those living closest to their environment. Local fishermen and village chiefs have formed community– based organisations known as Community Fisheries or CFis, building local leadership for marine conservation. These locally elected CFi teams patrol and protect fishing waters, promoting traditional, sustainable methods of fishing while ensuring marine resources are used only by the local community. As representatives for their environment, CFi team members are fast becoming leading voices for conservation in Cambodia.




RESPONSIBLE TOURISM Ecotourism is a rapidly growing industry in Cambodia as development expands to rural and coastal areas of natural beauty. With ever more coastal resorts developing and diverse dive sites being explored, coastal tourism is bringing jobs and income to local communities. While tourism is a potential threat to ecosystem health, it can also be a solution. Responsible tourism can boost local economies and provide funding for environmental protection.


RAISING AWARENESS Educational outreach, through workshops, games and beach cleans, equips the next generation of community leaders and sets an example for environmental responsibility and conservation. Outreach does not only go in one direction. Local government and NGO representatives run workshops to raise awareness and inspire action, but crucially they learn from local stakeholders about issues faced and areas of conservation importance. Local knowledge gained through community consultation was a vital part of the design of the Koh Rong Archipelago Marine Fisheries Management Area.







BUILDING THE NEXT GENERATION OF CAMBODIAN CONSERVATIONISTS Cambodian graduates are leading the way in biodiversity conservation. Fauna & Flora International and the Royal University of Phnom Penh have established Cambodia’s first Master’s degree course in Biodiversity Conservation, equipping the next generation of Cambodian scientists with the knowledge and skills to understand and protect the nation’s biodiversity.


PIONEERING RESEARCH Effective conservation and fisheries management is built on sound science. The government, private sector, NGOs and local universities have been cooperating to build local capacity for marine protection and sustainable management of fishing resources. Technology has been changing the face of marine conservation research and management in Cambodia. Fauna & Flora International has been working with local government and community teams to use innovative tools such as conservation drones for habitat mapping, and ‘SMART’ GPS technology for patrolling fishing waters, becoming the first site in SE Asia to be fully operational with this Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) in a marine protected area.



SECURING THEIR FUTURE Children have grown up with the sea as their playground. Conservation is not only for environmental and economic reasons – there is immeasurable worth in preserving nature for the aesthetic, cultural and enjoyment value. Children define the future of a nation. Sustainable coastal management through local leadership, community awareness, scientific research and habitat protection will help create a hopeful future both for Cambodia’s children and its valuable coastal resources.



Fauna & Flora International is a proven conservation innovator that continues to make a lasting impact on global biodiversity.


Since 2011, Fauna & Flora International Cambodia has been working with the Royal Government of Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration, three community fisheries, local NGOs and business owners to conserve Cambodia’s marine environment and coastal livelihoods through the establishment and management of the country’s first large-scale marine protected area.


Cambodia marine photobook  

Cambodia's Coasts explores the coastal habitats that local communities and marine wildlife call home. Explore dense mangrove forests, lush...