At a Cambodian Lake, a Climate Crisis Unfolds

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At a Cambodian Lake, a Climate Crisis Unfolds

Post by Kung-fu Hillbilly »

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Fishermen unloaded their catch in Chong Khneas, a village on Tonle Sap Lake, last year. The region has been heavily affected by drought.CreditCreditSergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

By Abby Seiff
Sept. 30, 2019


A trifecta of climate change, hydropower dams and illegal fishing are threatening the Tonle Sap, and the people who rely on its fish.

The lake is fed by an extraordinary hydrological phenomenon called a monotonal flood-pulsed system. A tributary known as the Tonle Sap River stretches from the Mekong to the Tonle Sap Lake, reversing course twice a year to fill and empty the lake. In the rainy season, water surges up into the lake, which expands as much as six times its dry-season size, covering 6,000 square miles. In the dry season, water flows back out of the lake and into the Mekong.

Fishers have begged the Cambodian government to crack down on the large-scale illegal fishing that takes place inside the lake’s protected areas. Environmental campaigners have urged a moratorium on the megadams dotting the Mekong and its tributaries. Researchers have suggested investment in energy alternatives such as floating solar panels. In December, the 2019 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will convene in Santiago, Chile; if the concept of a changing climate remains a theoretical in the minds of some Western leaders, it is very much a lived experience on the Tonle Sap.

Over the past three years, I’ve made repeated visits to the lake to chart how people are coping with these changes. The dozens of fishers I’ve spoken with all say the same thing: The fish are smaller, the catch is dropping, and no one is sure if the lake will make it. I met families whose daughters left home for factory jobs in Phnom Penh, and whose sons sneaked into Thailand for plantation labor. I met people who said they had to fish near protected areas, or use nets with tiny holes, or set traps with sticks from the forest, because if they didn’t resort to some form of illegal fishing, they would die. Nearly everyone I met was deep in debt.

full https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/30/opin ... imate.html
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Re: At a Cambodian Lake, a Climate Crisis Unfolds

Post by CEOCambodiaNews »

The Tonle Sap lake crisis continues in 2020:

Fishermen left without fish as Cambodia's river reversal runs late
The river reversal vital for Tonle Sap Lake may not happen until next month, officials said.
Published 10 hours ago

KAMPONG KHLEANG, CAMBODIA (REUTERS) - Crucial water flows to Tonle Sap, South-east Asia's largest lake, have been delayed for a second consecutive year, according to river experts, severely disrupting fishing and threatening the food supply of more than a million people.

The river reversal vital for Tonle Sap may not happen until next month, officials said, owing to drought conditions and more than a dozen hydropower dams in China and Laos which are blamed for disrupting the natural flow of the Mekong River.

The Mekong typically swells in rainy season where it converges with Cambodia's Tonle Sap River, causing an unusual reversed flow into the Tonle Sap Lake, filling it up and providing bountiful fish stocks.

But that hasn't happened yet and people who depend on the lake are struggling to get by.

"I went out fishing for two nights and couldn't catch enough," said 37-year-old Khon Kheak, repairing a fishing net under his stilt house at Kampong Khleang, a floating village with little water to float in.

That trip earned him 12,000 riels, or about US$3 (S$4), compared to US$12-US$25 a day last year, enough to support his family of six.

His wife Reth Thary worries those days may be over.

"If it continues like this we would be finished, we also owe people money," she said, referring to a US$1,000 loan.

Water typically flows into the Tonle Sap Lake for 120 days, swelling it sixfold before running back into the Mekong as the monsoon season ends, usually in late September.

Based on rain forecasts and rainfall data, the river's unique reverse flow should happen in August, said Mr Long Saravuth, a Deputy Secretary General of Cambodia's National Mekong Committee.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) attributes the delay to lower 2019 rainfall and operations of upstream Mekong hydropower dams, two of which are in Laos and 11 in China.

"From now on, the reversed flow timing will likely not be the same as it used to be," the MRC said.
More: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-as ... -runs-late
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Re: At a Cambodian Lake, a Climate Crisis Unfolds

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The Tonle Sap river is starting to change direction today. It's an incredible sight.
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Re: At a Cambodian Lake, a Climate Crisis Unfolds

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Water Volume in Tonle Sap Lake Still Below All-Time Lows
AKP Phnom Penh, August 20, 2020 -- The Mekong River Commission (MRC) says the volume of water in the Tonle Sap Lake is still below all-time lows.

In a weekly situation report, the MRC’s Flood and Drought Management Centre in Phnom Penh said low inflows from the Mekong River and tributaries in the early wet season resulted in a “very critical situation” for the lake.

The centre reported last week that the annual reverse flow of the Tonle Sap River did not begin in earnest until Aug. 4. The delayed reversal followed two "extremely small and brief instances" in July, it said.

More than half of the annual inflow into the lake originates from the Mekong mainstream.

“The low inflows from the Mekong River are most likely affected by less rainfall in the upper sub-catchment areas,” the centre said.

The Upper Mekong Basin in China is estimated to account for about 16 percent of the water discharged by the river into the sea through the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

The biggest contribution is estimated to come from two major left-bank tributaries between Stung Treng and the Lao capital of Vientiane. These account for more than 40 percent of the river’s discharge, the MRC says.
- AKP
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Re: At a Cambodian Lake, a Climate Crisis Unfolds

Post by ssian »

I'm starting to wonder what do they meant by illegal fishing?!
I think the primary problem is on the Dam while the factor like less rainfall probably is the secondary cause...
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Re: At a Cambodian Lake, a Climate Crisis Unfolds

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armchairlawyer wrote: Mon Aug 10, 2020 4:14 pm The Tonle Sap river is starting to change direction today. It's an incredible sight.
It did change direction, then it changed back again! Today back to being not sure.
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Re: At a Cambodian Lake, a Climate Crisis Unfolds

Post by armchairlawyer »

armchairlawyer wrote: Sun Sep 13, 2020 12:40 pm
armchairlawyer wrote: Mon Aug 10, 2020 4:14 pm The Tonle Sap river is starting to change direction today. It's an incredible sight.
It did change direction, then it changed back again! Today back to being not sure.
Yesterday it reverted to flowing in the correct direction for the time of year, i.e. northwards.
That is good to see.
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Re: At a Cambodian Lake, a Climate Crisis Unfolds

Post by Ghostwriter »

So that's 2 months late on one reversal period of 6 months ?
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Re: At a Cambodian Lake, a Climate Crisis Unfolds

Post by SternAAlbifrons »

It can flow northwards pretty fast - previously anyway
This is on the upper Tonle Sap river just before it flows into the lake.
- taken in early July one year
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Re: At a Cambodian Lake, a Climate Crisis Unfolds

Post by CEOCambodiaNews »

Did Cambodia's Most Famous River Stop Changing Course?
To fill up the Tonle Sap lake, its river reverses course twice a year. But droughts and dams appear to have stilled the unique phenomenon.
by Abby Seiff
October 16, 2020, 8:00am

Not far from Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temples, the towering stilts keeping wooden houses at safe levels above water have been rendered useless — the land below is dry.

It's September, the height of rainy season, and these floating villages on the upper edge of the Tonle Sap lake should be flooded. But something has gone wrong. The eponymous river that pushes billions of gallons of water into the lake each rainy season has gone still. The lake, which expands and contracts like a beating heart twice each year for millennia has barely spilled past its dry season borders.

"We don’t see the water rising up like before," said Kheav Cheam, a 50-year-old fisherman. "In the past, the water rose higher and spilled into the lake, so we could catch fish. But now, the water doesn't go into the lake and the fish don't grow bigger."

In Cambodia, fish is the main source of protein for as much as 80 percent of the population. Cheam, who lives with his family in a small boat that they move between the river and the lake, has survived off these waters his entire adult life. Now, he often fails to catch enough to offset the cost of gasoline. "We're afraid that people living in the upper parts have closed the dam, so we are growing desperate. It's getting worse and worse for fishing — in the future, there will be no fishing, because there is no water left."

The Tonle Sap lake is the largest body of freshwater in all of Southeast Asia and one of the most successful inland fisheries in the world. Its productivity comes from a unique hydrological function. The lake is fed by the Tonle Sap river, a Mekong tributary that reverses course twice a year, sending water, nutrients, and migrating fish down from the upper reaches of Asia's mighty Mekong river into the lake and back again. The first reversal typically takes place in May, as the Mekong swells with rain, forcing water into the Tonle Sap river and up into the lake. By November, the volume of the lake has grown so large it exerts an opposite force, sending water back down the eponymous river and into the Mekong.

This flood pulse that feeds Cambodia's Tonle Sap can expand the lake up to six times its size — as much as 6,000 square miles — during the rainy season. With it comes fish, an extraordinary abundance that has sustained the population for thousands of years. Ancient lakeside tombs hold the remains of cooked meals: fish salted and marinated; fish turned into soup; fish roasted and smoked. Angkorian bas reliefs are studded with snakeheads and carps and vendors selling freshly caught fish. "There are very many fish whose names I don’t know, all of them coming from the Freshwater Sea ... They get clams, mud clams and pond snails just by scooping them out of the Freshwater Sea," Zhou Daguan, a Chinese emissary who penned the first outsider's account of Cambodia, wrote in the late 13th century. Today, some 500,000 tons of fish are pulled from the lake each year, and millions more from the rest of the lower Mekong basin, which spreads across neighboring Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. With the flood pulse slowing, the fish are fast vanishing.

Last year, the Tonle Sap river reversal occurred months later than usual and lasted barely six weeks. This year, some believe it never reversed course at all. If it did, climate change and dams have left the river level so low as to make the reversal negligible.

Usually, the reversal lasts 160 days and sends 38.37 cubic-kilometers of water flooding into the lake, according to two-decade averages collected by the Mekong River Commission, an intergovernmental body aimed at joint river management. An MRC report released at the end of September shows a staggering drop. During July, August, and September, the lake reached a quarter of its normal volume. In fact, the lake's volume during that time was barely half of what it was a year earlier — when the Mekong receded to a historic low, leading to food shortages across the region.

Monitoring from the Mekong River Commission shows that water levels on the Tonle Sap river in September were about half their average depth. At the end of September, the river approaches its maximum height: it's typically some 8.5 meters deep at Phnom Penh Port, which sits at the bottom of the Tonle Sap river, less than a mile from where it meets the Mekong. This year, it was 4.4 meters.

Until mid-October, as a tropical storm and flash flooding battered Cambodia, the height of the Tonle Sap river never once topped 5 meters — a depth, that if sustained, serves as the tipping point at which the river would reverse course, according to Brian Eyler, Southeast Asia program director at the Stimson Center.
Full article and photos: https://www.vice.com/en/article/dy8gv7/ ... ing-course
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