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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid