WCS has been working alongside the Cambodian government since the late 1990s to conserve the unique ecosystem of the Tonle Sap lake and floodplain, WCS currently supports two conservation projects that are protecting key species in the lake's flooded forest and greater floodplain.
The Tonle Sap Great Lake is of enormous social, cultural and environmental value. It is one of the most productive and diverse fisheries systems in the world, providing key breeding grounds for fish and 60% of Cambodia's protein intake. It is home to some of the largest breeding colonies of some of the world's most threatened water birds. It is the largest lake in Southeast Asia, and boasts the largest seasonally flooded freshwater swamp forest habitat in Southeast Asia, and one of the largest snake hunts in the world, with over 6.9 million water snakes captured each year.
The Tonle Sap ecosystem now faces unprecedented threats. As Cambodia's population increases, so does the pressure on the country's natural resources. Fish stocks are now threatened by over-exploitation and illegal fishing methods. Commercial farmers and developers are seizing land in the flooded forest and grasslands in wider floodplain, destroying key wildlife habitats in the process. Deforestation poses a continued threat to the flooded forest, the key breeding ground for fish and the endangered water birds, as local people continue to fell trees for firewood and agriculture.
Recent studies have shown that water level changes in the Mekong River due to dams are likely to have dramatic effects on the Tonle Sap water levels, which will greatly affect the ecosystem, including reducing forest area, changing the sediment regime and impacting fish catches and local livelihoods.