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The final 92 Irrawaddy dolphins in Mekong River may not survive

Kratie, Cambodia – At the dolphin ticket office is really a tattered page stuck to the wall calling on readers to save dolphins as an ingredient of “Cambodia’s splendid natural heritage”. 

It says, “building dams destroy habitats” and lists threats to dolphins, including pollutions and gillnets. It appears like an insect-eaten papyrus.

The Irrawaddy dolphin is really a endangered species critically. The biggest of the five remaining population groups lives here, in a stretch of the Mekong River near Kratie (pronounced Krah-che) in northeast Cambodia

The government and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimate there are currently 92 dolphins nearby – hook uptick in the steady decline since 200 were counted in 1997. 

They surface like submarines because the sun sets, turning the sky blood red and gold. They expel water from their blowholes, sounding like disgruntled horses.

Fishermen are discouraged from using techniques that involve electricity [Nathan Thompson/Al Jazeera]

On the lender, Sey Inn clasps his hands behind his back, watching the scene. He was created in Kratie in 1945. 

“There have been a couple of thousand dolphins when I was young,” he says. “The bombing through the [Vietnam] war killed a whole lot. And the heavy fishing.” 

There are no estimates of the amount of dolphins killed during the pugilative war. 

US forces thought Vietcong supplies were travelling via the northern Mekong and unloaded “2.7 million tonnes of explosives between 1964 and 1975”, in accordance with a study on the “demographic collapse” of the dolphins by the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

NGOs have already been attempting to raise awareness on the threats to the Irrawaddy dolphin [Nathan Thompson/Al Jazeera]

It wasn’t just the impact that could have killed them. A 2014 paper by Dr Isabel Beasley says “toothed whales (ie dolphins) have extremely sensitive hearing, and a complex sonar system useful for foraging, communicating and navigating.” 

The “audio trauma” from the explosions might cause death and the “interruption of feeding, breeding [and] nursing”.

Noisy disturbances continue today as tourist boats congest the top of river where in fact the Kratie population feed.

Residents say there have been a large number of dolphins prior to the bombing of Vietnam [Nathan Thompson/Al Jazeera]

“If they start to see the boat, the dolphins pyeeuu!” says boat driver Sun Kung, miming an animal in flight. 

Some tour guides now offer kayaking as a safer alternative.  

Dieb Socheat, referred to as “Lucky”, owns a kayak tour company in Kratie. 

“When I was young in the 1980s, everyone had guns and the dolphins were being protected by one,” he says. “People hunted them with dynamite and guns for food also to obtain oil.”

Heavy fishing in addition has added threats to the Irrawaddy dolphin [Nathan Thompson/Al Jazeera]

Lucky says the increase in dolphin numbers, from 80 to 92 individuals in 2 yrs, is due to awareness campaigns by Government and ngos. 

“They encouraged visitors to quit chucking dynamite in to the water and using harsh gillnets.” 

However, some individuals dangle live jump leads in the water still, electrocuting mass amounts of fish.

Patrols of the river have increased [Nathan Thompson/Al Jazeera]

Savuth Dong, chief of the provincial department of environment of Kratie Province, can be involved. 

“We’ve increased river guards,” he says. “They consider fishermen still using electricity and the WWF also [patrol] a few times weekly.”

Dong says his department runs&nbsp also;a programme encouraging people “to only catch catch food” and steer clear of commercial trawling. “So you will have left for the dolphins to consume fish.” 

But there will not be catch the dolphins or locals in case a dam gets built north of Kratie, according to analysts.

The [dolphin] population could become locally extinct from the Mekong River.

Natural Heritage Institute report

The Sambor Hydropower Dam is in the look stages currently, a jv of the Cambodian the&nbsp and government;China Southern Power Grid Company. 

It will be 18km wide, develop a reservoir 82km long, and bisect the&nbsp “perhaps;largest annual migration of fish biomass on earth”, in accordance with a written report by the Natural Heritage Institute (NHI), tasked with assessing alternatives to the dam.

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It will be with the capacity of generating 2,600 megawatts of electricity, over&nbsp just;the current usage of the complete country.

There are less than 100 Irrawaddy dolphins in the river now [Nathan Thompson/Al Jazeera]

This must create a surplus of energy for export – an excellent money spinner for this lower-middle-income nation. 

However, disruptions to fish spawning grounds and the “capture of most nutrients and sediments that maintain and replenish the morphology of the Mekong Delta and nourish the food web”, may have devastating effects, the NHI report says.

There will be “a cumulative decline in harvestable biomass below the dam in the number of 45 percent”.

Experts come to mind a new dam will get rid of the species [Nathan Thompson/Al Jazeera]

As for the dolphins, “the population may become extinct from the Mekong River locally,” the report adds.

Fish makes up about 20 percent of the Cambodian diet and 80 percent of animal protein intake, according to WWF. 

As for the society and the economy, the estimated toll from the Sambor others and dam planned in Laos is going to be in the billions

Irrawaddy dolphins spend the majority of their time foraging. They’re particularly active nor acrobatic dolphins neither, however they do make low leaps sometimes, in accordance with WWF [Nathan Thompson/Al Jazeera]

Ministry of Environment spokesperson Neth Pheaktra declined to touch upon the Sambor dam. 

Savuth Dong, a former fisher himself, can only just await the higher-ups to have a decision. 

“The dam will impact the dolphins and fish,” he said, adding he would prefer an alternative solution method of generating electricity.

NHI presented a solar powered energy option to Sambor dam to the Cambodian government within its report. But director Gregory Thomas says the answer is blocked.

There is really a profound disconnect between responsible resource management and alleviating poverty. This requires a heavy toll on fresh-water dolphins.

Courtney Work, assistant professor

Investors would have to get a higher tariff to justify their investment in the solar powered energy plant, he says. 

“The existing tariff is 6.9 US cents per kilowatt hour. The NHI team estimates that the solar retrofit will be economical at about 7.5 cents.” 

And second, Electricite du Cambodge, which may choose the power from the plant’s Chinese owners, is sceptical.

“[They are] worried about the consequences of integrating this charged power on the stability of the national grid,” Thomas says.

Banned fishing techniques using electricity or explosives can kill dolphins directly [Nathan Thompson/Al Jazeera] 

The Cambodian Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) is revising its power sector master arrange for approval by Prime Minister Hun Sen in early 2019.

The solar powered energy plant alternative “will most likely not be on that revised master plan”, Thomas adds.

Victor Jona, director general of the MME, says the federal government is giving “due consideration of environmentally friendly aspects” linked to the Sambor dam proposal.

“NHI has given a recommendation of solar powered energy instead of the dam but other developers have different arguments … We will weigh our dependence on development against environmental concerns.”

Noisy disturbances can disrupt the dolphins, so kayak tours take visitors rather than loud boats&nbsp now;[Nathan Thompson/Al Jazeera]

The term “development” often means various things in Cambodia.

NGOs and United Nations agencies equate it with liberal democratic values such as for example empowering women, improving education. The federal government and investors view it as creating in Cambodia the sort or sort of wealth and lifestyle enjoyed by so-called developed nations. 

“You will find a profound disconnect between responsible resource management and alleviating poverty,” says Courtney Work, assistant professor at the Department of Ethnology at National Chengchi University, Taipei. “This requires a heavy toll on fresh-water dolphins and the rest of the non-human members of our population that are not contained in our calculations.” 

The boat drivers in Kratie total-up the day’s takings. Together they took 20 boatloads of tourist out to start to see the dolphins. These were no problem finding the rainy season has ended now. 

They are sheltering in several deep pools in the riverbed because the dry season rolls in, scorching the banks and shrivelling the river.