Villagers urged to swap fishing for ecotourism

Source: Khmer Times

Mekong communities have the chance to attract ecotourists. Supplied

The Tourism Minister has called on riverside communities in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces to avoid fishing in areas where dolphins live to attract visitors who want to see the rare creatures.
Thong Khon’s call came as the government prepared to open the third annual River Festival in Stung Treng province today.
Mr. Khon said the country’s Mekong communities have the potential to build their economies around ecotourism attractions that appeal to both local and foreign visitors, especially in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces, where the river dolphins live.
He urged locals to do more to preserve the dolphins’ habitat.
He said: “In short, there are no tourists if there are no dolphins. That means people must strive to protect the dolphins.
“Instead of fishing, they can work taking tourists to see the dolphins, run guesthouses, rent bicycles and supply visitors with food. They stand to gain a lot more than what they get from fishing.”
According to Mr. Khon, there are now about 100 dolphins in stretches of the Mekong in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.
Youth environmental activist Chum Hour, who has been researching dolphin activity in the river, supported the minister’s call to protect the Mekong.
But he warned that illegal fishing still poses a threat, as does the construction of the Don Sahong hydropower dam in Laos, which is blocking fish migration and polluting the river.
“Rather than encouraging people to run guesthouses, I would ask the Ministry of Environment to work with locals on coming up with sustainable policies for improving community life,” he said.
This year’s River Festival, which will run for three days from today, is themed “Connecting People, Tourism, Culture, and Environment.”
Mr. Khon predicted the festival will attract about 20,000 visitors per day.
In a message of support for the River Festival, Prime Minister Hun Sen called on national and international tour operators, local authorities and the public to care for the Mekong and turn Cambodia into a high-quality tourist destination to boost employment and reduce poverty.

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