Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Big-name divers explore deepest Mekong pools in key fauna survey

Big-name divers explore deepest Mekong pools in key fauna survey

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The group of underwater explorers dived about 75m below the surface of the Mekong River in Cambodia. WONDER OF MEKONG

Big-name divers explore deepest Mekong pools in key fauna survey

A group of well-known underwater explorers have dived to a depth of about 75m below the surface of the Mekong River in Cambodia, an important body of water that is the last habitat of the world’s largest freshwater fish.

The deepest exploration mission ever carried out in the Mekong is an international effort led by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Wonders of the Mekong project, which began on April 23 and finished on April 27.

“We are exploring deep into the Mekong, another world – a realm within a hidden realm, a pitch-black space inhabited by rare and unusual fish like the Mekong giant stingray and giant catfish,” said Zeb Hogan, a fish biologist and leader of the USAID-funded project.

The area that the scientists will focus on is located just downstream of a Ramsar wetland of international importance. The region is dominated by flooded forests, rocky outcrops, sand bars, braided channels, deep pools and rapids and riffles. This area also is home to many of the Mekong’s more than 1,000 fish species, including the bizarre two-faced carp, giant goonch catfish, and the striped catfish, once a staple food in Cambodia.

Researchers believe that these areas are critically important as dry-season fish refuges and important spawning areas, and perhaps as the last habitat of several endangered giant fish. It is a region that is recognised as special and protected by local communities.

To study these important areas, Hogan – and project co-leader Sudeep Chandra – teamed up with biologists from the Fisheries Faculty of the Royal University of Agriculture; deep sea researcher Kakani Katija and her team from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute; and Kenny Broad, University of Miami professor, environmental scientist, cave diver, and the 2011 National Geographic Explorer of the Year. They are all specialists in the exploration and study of extreme underwater habitats.

In a press release seen by The Post on April 29, Hogan said: “The biggest challenge will be getting down to the bottom. Its deepest areas are below sea level. Besides being dark and silent, the waters could be obscured by particulates.”

For their exploration, the team used unmanned submersibles equipped with lights and cameras, drop cameras suspended on long cables, and use baited video cameras as their eyes and ears. To assess the foreign environment, equipment that measures depth and flow and maps the river bottom and currents were deployed.

The team’s basecamp are adjacent to one of the Cambodian Mekong’s deepest pools and a fish reserve designed to protect spawning fish. The area itself is dotted with islands occupied by small fishing camps, nomadic fishers that move from island to island, season to season. Upstream, across the border in Laos, is Khone Falls, the Mekong’s only main channel waterfall.

Hogan said that these deep pools may even have the potential of being used as introduction sites for endangered fish, similar to what the Wonders of the Mekong team did last month in the Tonle Sap Lake.

Chea Seila, programme manager for Wonders of the Mekong, said in the press release: “This is one of many Wonders of the Mekong projects that seeks to protect a healthy, connected river, and the people, fisheries, wildlife, and water quality that the river supports.”

Chhut Chheana, communications coordinator for USAID Wonders of the Mekong, told The Post on May 1: “The exploration was conducted in the Mekong Ramsar area, which is from Stung Treng provincial town to the Lao border.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Research key to Kanitha’s rep for expertise

    Sok Kanitha is used to weighing in on controversial issues using a confident approach that signals expertise and authority, and a recent video she made was no exception. Her “Episode 342: The History of NATO” video went live on January 16, 2023 and immediately shot to 30,000 likes and 3,500

  • Cambodia maintains 'Kun Khmer' stance despite Thailand’s boycott threat

    Cambodia has taken the position that it will use the term "Kun Khmer" to refer to the sport of kickboxing at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and has removed the term Muay from all references to the sport. Despite strong reactions from the Thai

  • Knockout! Kun Khmer replaces ‘Muay’ for Phnom Penh Games

    Cambodia has decided to officially remove the word Muay from the programme of the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games 2023 in May. “Kun Khmer” will instead be used to represent the Southeast Asian sport of kickboxing, in accordance with the wishes of the Cambodian people. Vath

  • Artificial insemination takes herd from 7 to 700

    Some farms breed local cows or even import bulls from a broad for the purpose of breeding heavier livestock for meat production. One Tbong Khnum farmer has found a more efficient way. Hout Leang employs artificial insemination to fertilise local cows. Thanks to imported “straws”

  • New int’l airport nearly half complete as travel industry returns to life

    Construction of a new airport that is slated to serve the capital has passed the 43 per cent completion mark, raising prospects for a proper recovery in the civil aviation and tourism sectors as international travellers return to the Kingdom in increasingly large numbers. The figure

  • Chinese group tours return to Cambodia starting Feb 6

    Cambodia is among 20 countries selected by Beijing for a pilot programme allowing travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, following a three-year ban. As the days tick down until the programme kicks off on February 6,