Akol Village, Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia

Video : Cambodia's Beating Heart

November 30th, 2015

The Tonle Sap is Southeast Asia’s largest lake, and Cambodia’s primary source of protein - but all is not well on the Great Lake.

The Tonle Sap, or the Great Lake, is often referred to as Cambodia’s beating heart - a nickname appropriate on both scientific and metaphorical levels.

The river of the same name that feeds the Tonle Sap changes the direction of its flow twice a year to coincide with the Mekong’s changing levels. When the Mekong swells with monsoon rains, its currents flow into the Great Lake raising the water level by up to 10 metres and creating an ideal breeding environment for a myriad of species. When the dry season sets in, the Tonle Sap discharges its biodiverse contents back into the Mekong and its fertile delta. This annual pulsing is the heartbeat of the region’s ecological life cycle.

On a more human level, the Tonle Sap is one of the most productive freshwater bodies on the planet, producing more edible fish than the combined freshwater fisheries of North America and providing the primary source of protein for the majority of Cambodians.

Yet for such an invaluable resource, the largest freshwater body in Southeast Asia faces a troubled future. A rapidly growing population has led to chronic overfishing and the use of unsustainable (and illegal) equipment that is devastating the fish populations, while at the same time deforestation along the Tonle Sap’s banks is destroying the breeding grounds so crucial for their reproduction.

Without a comprehensively enforced fisheries management program and a radical revamping of conservation efforts, the Great Lake’s heart could cease to beat.

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