Save the Mekong River Wildlife

Save the Mekong River Wildlife

In the US it is easy to see rivers as recreational.  A place to sail, swim or fish.  But in many parts of the world rivers are often the life line for millions of of people. The Mekong River in southeast Asia is one such life line, and the residents who depend on this particular river say that the proposed building of 11 hydroelectric dams in Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos, will have a devastating affect on the humans and wildlife that depend on it.

An organization named Save the Mekong has been formed to try and persuade local governments to think twice about the dams, which are the idea of private businesses in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Russia.

The river, which is home to over 1,200 species of fish, is about 3,000 miles long and winds through the Tibetan plateau, southern China, Myanmar, Laos Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Roughly 50 of the species are caught commercially for food for local people.   In fact, the Mekong River basin is the biggest inshore fishery on the planet as it makes up approximately two per cent of the world's fish catch.

Carl Middleton, who belongs to an environmental organization called International Rivers, told news media that the dams would block the migration of several types of fish that are depended on for food by local citizens. He added that the fish make up between 50 to 80 per cent of the animal protein that people eat and that almost 90 percent of regional communities are involved in the fishing industry in one way or another.

Middleton said even one dam would have a terrible effect on the fishing business as most fish migrate long distances along the river. He said the if the first dam is built then the total number of dams is irrelevant because the fish wouldn't be able to get by the first one anyway.As well as physically changing the natural waterways, dams are also notorious for pollution - changing the chemical and microbiological make up of the water and leaching by-products and contaminants into the surrounding soil, run off and water.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has stated concerns that animals such as the endangered freshwater Irrawady dolphin, which inhabits a 120-mile stretch between Cambodia and Laos are at risk of extinction due to pollution. The WWF said recent dolphin deaths have been caused by contaminants in the river and that new dams would only worsen the situation for this rare species.

Eighty eight dolphins have died since 2003, and just over half of them were calves that were less than two weeks old, the WWF said. It is now estimated that only about 64 to 76 dolphins are left in the Mekong.

Many other species would be at risk too. Only the Amazon River has a higher concentration of freshwater aquatic animals in the world.

Regional governments though, say they need sources of inexpensive, reliable power, and that damming the river is a better option than coal-fired power stations.

The first of the 11 dams, slated for northern Cambodia, could be ready as soon as 2013. The Save the Mekong group has already gathered 16,380 signatures on a petition and presented it to Thailand Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to remind him that the river is one of the main sources of food and income for millions of people along it's shores.

You can add your name to the petition here.