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Life, Fish and Mangroves

Melissa Marschke


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1I first visited Koh Sralao village in June 1998. The area surrounding the village had recently (1996) obtained Ramsar site status because of the health and abundance of mangrove trees in this part of the Gulf of Thailand. Being Canadian and new to mangrove ecology, I was awestruck as we boated through the extensive stands of mangroves. Birds flew through the trees, monkeys swung between branches, and I saw expanses of white sand in places. The landscape was truly magnificent. I could see why people were migrating from other parts of Cambodia to live in this resource-rich area.

2Six weeks later, however, much of the lush mangrove canopy surrounding the village was gone, particularly at the estuary edges where only trunks of trees remained. Villagers had an opportunity to earn decent money from the sale of mangrove logs in the final days prior to the 1998 national election. This episode of small-scale logging was a product of a particular point in time: officials turning a blind eye toward resource extraction during a chaotic pre-election campaigning period. I was witnessing what I took to be a classic tragedy of the commons scenario, where multiple individual actions were resulting in serious deforestation.

3In the years that followed, I continued to visit this village on a near annual basis. With time, villagers halted the mangrove decline and initiated an active mangrove replanting campaign (500 ha), an environmental education campaign, and monitoring and patrolling activities. These local-level experiences fed into national resource governance reforms. Against great odds, villagers had persisted and found a way to maintain their live-lihood while also perusing a resource management mandate.

4My second shock came in 2010, twelve years after first arriving to this area. On our boat ride towards Koh Sralao village we passed a dozen or so large barges filled with either sand or a serious amount of sand extraction equipment. Then, as we arrived at the village, I saw a dozen or so abandoned stilt-framed houses dotting the shoreline. By way of explanation, I was told that around a sixth of the households had left the village in the past year. People were leaving because of serious declines in the swimming crab population and high debt levels thought to be linked to the sand mining operations that had been taking place near local fishing grounds since 2008. Needless to say, this situation angered and saddened me immensely.

5—M. Marschke, field research reflections, June 2010

Source: Ministry of Environment, Cambodia, August 2010.
figure i: Cambodia and the Research Area

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Légende Source: Ministry of Environment, Cambodia, August 2010.figure i: Cambodia and the Research Area
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