The Mekong flows through an extremely diverse landscape and surprises once again with its richness of species. But an unbroken construction boom threatens the ecosystem.
In the Mekong area, 110 new species have been discovered in the past two years. The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) on Thursday called Southeast Asia a “true treasure trove for animals and plants”. A turtle with a trunk and a fish named after the river Bruinen in the fantasy classic “Lord of the Rings” were found. According to WWF, a newly found plant is reminiscent of the eggs in the film “Alien”, from which the “Facehugger” jump.
The Mekong region, which covers China, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, is a melting pot of biodiversity. But it is in danger. “Massive habitat destruction, huge hydropower plants and large-scale poaching threaten the treasury,” says Stefan Ziegler of WWF-Germany. “Our goal must be to protect the biologically valuable areas of the Mekong across borders and permanently, as well as to make sustainable use of natural resources.”
Over the past 20 years, more than 2,500 new species have been discovered in the Mekong region, including numerous mammals and birds. “The combination of mountains, dry forests, wetlands and mangroves, as well as heavy rainfall and a humid climate, is unique,” says the WWF. Many of the resident species could not be found anywhere else. Fifty-four percent of amphibians occur only in the region, while reptiles account for 39 percent.
However, 150 large and small hydropower plants are planned on the Mekong. The dams would primarily benefit construction companies and their associated politicians, said pou Sothirak, director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, in a recent interview. “They are not interested in the social impact and the damage to the environment.” A total of around 70 million residents of the Mekong river area depend on the river’s water for agriculture and fisheries. Due to the dams on the upper reaches, the Mekong experienced extreme lows at times.