Results of an 18-month transboundary dolphin conservation project along the coastline of Thailand and Cambodia have confirmed that the transboundary coastal areas along the Thai-Cambodian border are particularly important habitats for the globally threatened Irrawaddy dolphin, and the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. The project has made significant progress in using dolphins as ambassadors to promote the concept of transboundary Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) management.
Based on surveys conducted from 2008 to 2014, the population of Irrawaddy dolphins in Trat, Thailandand Koh Kong, Cambodia is estimated at 500. This makes the Cambodia/Thailand transborder population of Irrawaddy dolphins the second largest in the world. “Unfortunately, these dolphins are in trouble. Many die when they get entangled in fishing gear, particularly gillnets.,” said Brian Smith, Asia Coordinator, IUCN SSC Cetacean Specialist Group and project technical adviser.
The project also revealed that there is a strong potential for integrating dolphin watching into ecotourism programmes in Trat and Koh Kong. Well-managed ecotourism offers an opportunity to strengthen dolphin research and conservation as well as improve the livelihoods of local fishermen whose activities may be affected by the establishment of dolphin management zones.
The project also developed best practices for dolphin watching activities and conducted trainings for boat drivers and tour operators.
Additionally, through the use of audio-visual communications tools like videos and posters, awareness was raised on both sides of the border through community meetings and outreach activities. Communication materials were produced and disseminated to communities, government agencies, non-governmental organisations, and international organisations in both countries. As a result, local dolphin conservation networks were strengthened.
To facilitate improved cooperation between both countries, a transboundary Marine Mammal Management Committee and a technical working group was established in Koh KongUnder the new Marine and Coastal Resources Management Act (2015), a working group within the newly formed Provincial Committee was also established in Trat Province, Thailand.
“Effective dolphin conservation initiatives in the Trat – Koh Kong area will require sustained collaborative efforts. Marine Spatial Planning and transboudary MPAs offer tools for all stakeholders to work together systematically and collectively over the next few years,” said Petch Manopawitr, Deputy of IUCN Indo-Burma Group and Project Manager.