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Cambodia declares first-ever marine protected area

  • The 405-square-kilometer (about 156-square-mile) Marine Fisheries Management Area (MFMA) around the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem will protect key species such as sea turtles and seahorses.
  • The MFMA will also protect vulnerable habitats, including nursery and breeding sites, while still allowing human activities like fishing, research, and tourism to take place.
  • Local non-profit Song Saa Foundation has been monitoring the health of coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses throughout the protected area in order to provide a baseline dataset upon which current and future management strategies can be based.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has approved the country’s first-ever marine protected area in the waters of the Koh Rong Archipelago.

The 405-square-kilometer (about 156-square-mile) Marine Fisheries Management Area (MFMA) around the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem will protect key species such as sea turtles and seahorses as well as vulnerable habitats, including nursery and breeding sites, while still allowing human activities like fishing, research, and tourism to take place.

“The MFMA will help to drive sustainable fishing activities of the community, protect biodiversity and promote ecotourism, all of which contribute to achieving the goal of the fisheries sector,” Ouk Vibol, director of Cambodia’s Department of Fisheries Conservation and one of the driving forces behind the creation of the protected area, said in a statement.

“This is a good management model, as many stakeholders — including development partners, the private sector, local authorities and the local community — are working together to manage the fisheries resource for sustainable use.”

Schooling fish around the jetty of M’Pai Bai. Photo by Paul Colley / Fauna & Flora International.

Conservation non-profit Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and local organizations including the Song Saa Foundation and Save Cambodian Marine Life worked with the country’s Fisheries Administration for the past five years to make the designation of the MFMA a reality.

FFI has been working with the Fisheries Administration since 2012 to provide support to the people and organizations promoting marine conservation in the Koh Rong Archipelago. Kate West, Coastal and Marine Project Manager at FFI, said that around 60-80 percent of people in communities around the archipelago are engaged in fishing or related activities such as tourism, making the declaration of the new MFMA a critical milestone “that will help ensure that the waters around Koh Rong can continue to support not only marine life but also local livelihoods long into the future.”

The Song Saa Foundation, for its part, has been monitoring the health of coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses throughout the protected area in order to provide a baseline dataset upon which current and future management strategies can be based.

“The establishment of this MFMA is a major step towards protecting biodiversity of key marine fauna and habitats in the archipelago, as well as the communities that rely upon them for their well being,” Ben Thorne, a project director with the Song Saa Foundation, said in a statement.

“We are hugely proud of our collaborative efforts over the past five years to establish this protected area, ensuring successful conservation of fisheries resources, whilst supporting local communities, for many years to come.”

Blue Spotted Rays can be found in and around the reefs in the Koh Rong Archipelago. Photo by Paul Colley / Fauna & Flora International.
The weird and the wonderful, a Flabellina nudibranch. Photo by Paul Colley / Fauna & Flora International.