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Mega-dams Jeopardize Endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin

10 November 2015 | World Wildlife Fund UK News Release

Whilst years of effective conservation work has slowed the rapid rate of decline of the critically endangered Mekong River Irrawaddy Dolphin, their future is threatened by the 11 proposed hydropower dams along the Mekong.

The proposed mega-dams could deal a crushing blow to the Mekong’s dolphins. The Don Sahong Dam site is less than two kilometres upstream from a deep river pool, which contains Laos’ last four Irrawaddy dolphins. Blasting alone could seriously damage their sensitive hearing. Further downstream in Kratie, a much larger population of dolphins is also threatened by the dam that could drastically reduce its food supply.

A new population survey by WWF and the Cambodian government found that the annual rate of decline has slowed from approximately seven per cent per year in 2007 to less than two per cent in 2015. This is the result of years of work by the government and WWF to protect their habitat and remove illegal gill nets, a major cause of dolphin mortality.

The dams have the potential to irrevocably disrupt fish migration, which would also endanger the world’s largest inland fishery and the main source of protein for the region’s 60 million people.

One of these – the Xayaburi Dam in northern Laos – is almost complete, while construction on another mega dam on the Don Sahong channel in southern Laos is expected to begin before the end of the year by Malaysia’s Mega First Corporation Berhad.

John Barker, Head of Programmes at WWF-UK commented,

“We still have a long journey ahead of us before being able to celebrate thriving populations of the iconic Irrawaddy dolphin in the Mekong. These dams will hugely damage years of conservation work and could have irreversible effects on this national treasure as well as threatening the food security of millions of people.”

Sam Ath Chhith, Country Director of WWF-Cambodia said,

“We need to re-double our efforts to reduce the mortality rate by protecting the dolphins from illegal gill net fishing and by ensuring that the destructive Don Sahong Dam and others like it are not built. The dam will have negative impacts on the entire Mekong River ecosystem all the way to the delta in Vietnam: it cannot proceed.”

The latest results also showed that the number of juvenile dolphins reaching adulthood has vastly improved giving further hope for the survival of species.


For further information:

Lianne Mason, Media Relations Officer, WWF-UK
Tel: +44 7771818699 / +44 1483 412206

Mr. UN Chakrey, Communications Manager of WWF-Cambodia
Tel: (855) 17 234 555

Mr. Lee Poston, Communications Director, WWF-Greater Mekong
Tel: (+66) 91 88 32290

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