Mangrove forests – a unique ecosystem which connects land and sea – are under threat from rapid economic development in the Kingdom’s coastal areas.

Sok Sokhom, president of the Cambodian National Research Organisation, said that the mangrove forests in Prey Nob 2 and Preah Sihanouk’s Chrolong fishery community are

facing a series of clearing and encroachment activities, while in other provinces such as Koh Kong and Kep the forests are also being occupied.

“There is lots of degradation, it’s huge and that’s why we’re pleading to save the mangrove forests.

“If it continues like this, we will lose precious natural resources and biodiversity in the seas will suffer.

The forests sustain the offspring of many of our most important species,” he said.

He said there was no official measure of the amount of mangroves that had been lost, but urged officials to complete a survey and to enforce the law as strictly as was being done in the Tonle Sap lake area.

Sokhom added that the loss of the mangrove forests was significant because not only are they the birthplace of marine biodiversity, but also play a large role in protecting coastal regions from erosion.

The forests are the breeding habitat of squid, oysters, crabs and snails, among other species. If the mangroves are lost, many important fisheries would be lost.

Besides providing breeding grounds and reducing erosion, mangroves also generate oxygen, store carbon, and reducing toxins in the oceans, he said.

Ing Try, deputy director of the Fisheries Administration, said that in order to protect the forests, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environment will prepare a sub-decree that covers the management of mangrove forests in four provinces.

The sub-decree will set measures as strict as those applied in the Tonle Sap.

He warned that the sub-decree would take some time. Extensive surveys would have to take place, and care would have to be taken so as not to affect established villages.

“We have to go into the field and use GPS to re-measure the mangrove’s boundaries. We will need to be precise, and then when the prime minister signs it, we will install marker posts,” he said.

Kampot Provincial Fisheries Administration director Sar Sorin said there are currently 1,900ha of mangrove forests in Kampot, and that thanks to a public education campaign, there is no encroachment.

More and more people are participating in mangrove nurseries and replanting operations, he added.

He said that in 2020 - 2021, a campaign planted 100,000 mangrove seedlings on 100ha in nine fishery communities in the province, and that there are currently an additional 60,000 seedlings ready to be planted.

The fisheries administration has so far installed about 300 boundary posts, with more to come.

Sorin said that in order to protect the mangroves, fisheries officials have prosecuted those who encroached.

“In 2018-2019, we sent eight cases to court over houses that were built in the mangroves. Now, offences tend to be on a smaller scale, such as people cutting firewood. Nonetheless, we continue to patrol and will pursue legal action against all offenders,” he added.

Improving the forests

Kep provincial governor Som Piseth said the provincial administration was working hard to protect the mangrove forests. There had been some opportunists who took timber from the forests while authorities were busy elsewhere, so he did not claim 100 per cent protection, but said his officials were improving all the time.

“If we receive a report of any illegal activities we generally call the suspects in for education and have them sign contracts agreeing to cease their activities. If they persist, we do not hesitate to file charges and send them to court,” he said.

He said his administration is also working to preserve canals in the coastal area and improve the forests by planting more trees.

Preah Sihanouk Fisheries Administration director Em Phea said 9,352ha of mangroves were recorded in the province in 2015.

From 2020 to the present, 10ha had been rehabilitated, while plans were underway to restore 60ha in Prey Nob district. 40,000 mangrove seedlings were currently being prepared.

The mangroves in the province are not being encroached on a large scale, he said, although there were some families who had taken some timber.

Local communities and the authorities conducted regular patrols to prevent this.

“We pay close attention to the mangroves because they are very important. Without these forests, biodiversity and fishery resources would decrease,” he said.

Environment ministry secretary of state and spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the ministry has established protected areas and promoted community participation by promoting mangrove ecotourism. It had also carried out extensive replanting operations.

He said mangroves can be planted two ways – by scattering seeds or by planting seedlings. There were many factors at play when replanting, as different species suited different geographical locations. It was also important to not over populate an area with just one species.

Pheaktra confirmed that no precise statistics on mangrove area were available, but a 1997 Land Use Data survey by JICA put the number at 63,041ha. The number was declining he said, as the ministry had measured 56,301ha in 2002 and 50,436ha in 2011.

He said some of the decline was due to natural factors, but the vast majority was caused by human activity. Land had been cleared to expand villages and farms or for salt production, and trees had been felled for timber or charcoal production, he added.