Thousands of people live on the Tonle Sap lake, living in floating villages that rise and fall with the ebb and flow of the flood waters. They rely on the Tonle Sap's fisheries for their livelihoods, while the communities of the flood plain predominantly engage in small-scale agriculture, with some seasonal fishing.
The population of the Tonle Sap lake consists of 170 villages with a total population of 80,000 people. There are no permanent human settlements inside the Prek Toal core area, although five villages are located on the boundary of the Core Area, including the floating village of Prek Toal.
The inhabitants of these villages live in floating houses and houseboats to cope with the seasonal variation in water level. The village economy relies almost exclusively upon fishing and associated activities (marketing, transportation, smoking, drying and processing of fish). There is a huge range of family fishing techniques, with close to 150 different types of fishing gear documented in the Cambodian Mekong and Tonle Sap. Seasonal migrants from upland areas settle at the edges of the villages and within the fishing zones to fish during the dry season.
The communities of the floodplain rely on the grasslands for grazing cattle, fishing, family-scale farming and the collection of plant products and wild animals such as frogs, grasshoppers, crabs, crickets and snails. These human uses help to maintain biodiversity and habitat condition. Of key importance is the farming of long-stemmed deepwater rice (also called floating rice), which takes place during the flood season from May to December. The cycle of ploughing and fallowing prevents scrub from invading but allows grasslands to persist, and the patchwork of active fields and grassland is attractive to floricans and other species. Grazing and burning also help to prevent scrub invasion.