Conservationist working groups have urged participation in protecting and conserving important coral habitats following the first-ever observation of coral reef spawning in Cambodian seawaters.

In early March, groups including the Fisheries Administration (FiA) – which operates under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries – Fauna & Flora International (FFI) Cambodia, Song Saa Foundation and Bubbles Up Dive Centre collaboratively discovered the phenomena, facilitated by guidance from Rahul Mehrotra of the Aow Thai Marine Ecology Center (ATMEC).

FFI representative in Cambodia Hem Manita stated that coral spawning, a critical reproductive process, typically happens annually and can last from a few minutes to over an hour, varying with coral type. 

She said the reproductive timing is vital for reef management, allowing for the deployment of restoration techniques and monitoring of hard coral health.

“The mass spawning event is a positive indicator of the health of the coral reefs, demonstrating resilience against major stressors like climate change,” Manita noted. 

She highlighted that the reefs are not only essential for marine life but also support coastal communities dependent on tourism and fisheries.

Manita revealed that corals are present in four coastal provinces – Kep, Kampot, Preah Sihanouk and Koh Kong – with a total coverage of 2,882ha, with Preah Sihanouk, in particular, harbouring over half of the nation’s coral reefs.

She stressed the crucial role of corals in marine ecosystems, supporting over 25 per cent of the world’s marine species, including more than 4,000 types of fish. 

According to Manita, healthy corals provide habitat, food and spawning grounds for a vast array of marine life.

She said they are also key in attracting tourists, contributing economic value to communities and the nation and acting as natural barriers against oceanic disasters.

Khvay Atitya, spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment, hailed the discovery of the reproduction as a landmark moment in Cambodian history. 

He said the breakthrough observation was achieved through collaborative research with FFI Cambodia, relevant state institutions and local administrations, exemplifying a strong commitment to conservation.

“This new discovery is crucial in showcasing the vitality of Cambodia’s natural life, particularly the health and harmony of our marine resources,” Atitya stated.

He emphasised the need for collective efforts to protect and conserve natural assets and advocated for further research on island and coastal resources in the four provinces, focusing on seagrass and coral.

Atitya noted that the ministry is engaged in studying rare and endangered wildlife species in coastal areas, including research on seahorses, dolphins, sharks and whales, particularly in marine zones like Koh Rong Marine National Park, Ream National Park and Koh Kong Krao (Outer Koh Kong). 

He also highlighted the ministry’s support for mangrove forest cultivation as a means to safeguard natural resources, ensuring their continued survival and proliferation.

FFI Cambodia and its partners are actively collaborating with local communities and other stakeholders along Cambodia’s coast. Their goal is to increase awareness about the importance of marine resources, develop sustainable conservation methods and enhance community livelihoods, as per the NGO.