News / Asia

Report Warns of Declining Biodiversity in SE Asia

People clean fish on the Mekong riverbank in Phnom Penh December 9, 2011.
People clean fish on the Mekong riverbank in Phnom Penh December 9, 2011.
Ron Corben
BANGKOK — One of the world’s largest environmental groups has released its latest study of freshwater biodiversity in Southeast Asia, where hydroelectric dams and development threaten fish and aquatic life.  It is the first-ever detailed survey of some parts of the Mekong river.

The four-year study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reveals growing rates of freshwater species under threat in the Southeast Asia region known as IndoBurma, with at least 13 percent of the more than 2,500 species facing extinction.

The Indo-Burma region covers Thailand, the western region of Burma - also known as Myanmar - Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and is based on the ecology and species distribution outside national borders.

The region is known as a ‘hotspot” by IUCN scientists for species largely not found elsewhere and under threat.

The IUCN says freshwater species now face increasing threats from reduced water volumes and quality, pollution, over-exploitation, dams and flow regulation, climate change and “invasive” alien species to the waterways.

Robert Mather, head of the IUCN’s Southeast Asia Group, says the findings raise concerns for freshwater fish, mollusks and crabs - which are key food sources for millions of people.

“For fish we looked at almost 1,200 species and we found 21 critically endangered and 39 endangered and 52 vulnerable," Mather explained. "So for fish around 16.9 percent are threatened, for mollusks, around 16.6 percent. For freshwater crabs almost a third of all species are threatened - 33.8 percent.”

People clean fish on the Mekong riverbank in Phnom Penh December 9, 2011.
People clean fish on the Mekong riverbank in Phnom Penh December 9, 2011.
In Cambodia’s Ton Le Sap Lake, research found that, although the total catch by weight had doubled in 50 years, the region’s human population had tripled and fish stocks are showing signs of depletion.

The IUCN also studied a 450-kilometer stretch of the Mekong River in Laos where scientists recorded 23 sightings of Lao flora not previously noted. Raphael Glement, an IUCN representative in Laos, says since the last study 12 years ago scientists found a sharp decline in biodiversity and forest habitat now with little evidence of primary evergreen forest.

“So the diversity and the evidence seems to be significantly lower than 12 years ago," noted Glement. "So again I’m comparing a two-day survey in 2004 to a 25 [day] survey in 2012. But, we can already identify that, for most of the birds, the population decreased or some birds disappear from this part of the river. The birds are good indicators of the quality of the environment They will be the first ones affected. So here is really clear.”

The IUCN says a key concern is plans for construction of hydropower dams on the lower Mekong. The Lao government last December had agreed to halt construction of the $3.8 billion Xayaburi Hydropower plant pending, further environmental assessments. But recent reports indicate construction has resumed on the plant that is expected to sell electricity to Thailand.

Mather says plans to proceed with up to 10 planned dams on the Lower Mekong could have a major impact on biodiversity.

“At the end of the day, the direct impacts of the Xayaburi Dam alone on food security are probably not going to be massive," Mather said. "But if you see the Xayaburi as the first in a whole cascade of dams that will be built on the Lower Mekong mainstream and the cumulative effects of these dams together - then the effect will be really massive on the food security.”

The IUCN warns that, in the next decade, the proportion of fish species threatened by the dams is predicted to rise from 19 percent to almost a third.

Environmental groups have called on Laos to stand by earlier calls for a 10-year moratorium on the Xayaburi Dam’s construction so a full evaluation of the impact on the biodiversity of the region can by fully assessed.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs