SEAFDEC Secretary-General, Ms. Malinee Smithrithee, and Policy and Program Coordinator of the SEAFDEC Secretariat, Dr. Worawit Wanchana, participated in the Regional Workshop on Development of Management and Conservation Plan for the Mekong Freshwater Dolphin and Biodiversity organized by the Fisheries Administration of Cambodia on 24–25 May 2023 in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The Workshop was also attended by representatives from the countries along the Mekong River (i.e. Cambodia and Thailand) as well as from Indonesia, Myanmar, and China where the Mekong freshwater dolphin and similar species can be found.
During the Workshop, SEAFDEC shared its expertise in fisheries management, conservation practices, and sustainable development in the context of the Mekong River and its freshwater dolphin populations. SEAFDEC also highlighted the role of the dolphins as indicator species for assessing ecosystem health; thus, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive management and conservation plan. Subsequently, the Workshop identified several threats to dolphin populations, including illegal and overfishing practices, harmful fishing methods, dam construction, habitat degradation, pollution from agricultural runoff and industrial waste, climate change, and increasing boat traffic. Therefore, the Workshop concurred that the establishment of protected areas along the Mekong River is a crucial step for safeguarding the species and their habitats and underscored the urgency of developing a comprehensive management and conservation plan.
Freshwater dolphins play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the food chain, regulating fish populations, and controlling diseases, and their conservation ensures the well-being of aquatic ecosystems, biodiversity preservation, and protection of other endangered species. Besides, dolphins hold cultural significance and contribute to the social identity of local communities. Collaborative efforts among governments, local communities, non-government organizations, and stakeholders are essential to implement sustainable practices to regulate fishing activities and address habitat degradation. The involvement of SEAFDEC in the Workshop demonstrated its support for the conservation and sustainable management of aquatic resources in the Southeast Asian region, including the Mekong River dolphin and biodiversity.