Kampot province in Cambodia has a known seagrass area of aproximately 25,000 ha, a highly productive and important ecosystem providing feeding and nursery grounds for many comercially important species. Various coastal development projects are currently in progress and there is worry amongst villagers and governmental institutions alike on what effects these will have on the seagrass ecosystem. It is therefore of great importance to both understand the current ecology and health of the seagrasses as well as to assess the local economic dependence on this ecosystem.
A baseline survey on the ecological health and distribution of the extensive seagrass beds has already been completed by the IUCN Building Coastal Resilience project. To complement this, a socio-economic study assessing the value of the seagrass ecosystem to the local livelihoods is now being conducted by a team of four researchers from IUCN, Fisheries Administration Cantonement and Department of Environment. The combination of the two studies will provide crucial information to ensure future coastal mangement decisions are sustainable.
The pilot study spanning four coastal villages is intended to measure the degree of dependance on seagrasses, changes in the fishery resources and explore the effects of current development plans to the sustainability of local livelihoods. During the first phase of the study, Participatory Rural Appraisal tools were used to identify main livelihood strategies and current challenges. Preliminary data analysis already shows a high dependance on the seagrasses - most of the income generating species caught by local fishermen are directly associated with seagrasses.
Furthermore, the benefits of preserving the seagrasses are known and recognized in target communities. "Seagrasses are important natural habitats for fish providing nutrition and breeding grounds as well reducing sea waves”, says Trapeang Sangkhe, Community Fishery Chief.
A problem matrix, ranking the main issues in the coastal area, shows a particularly high concern towards current coastal development in three out of four villages. Sand dregging and land filling are seen as severe threats to the sustainability of a career in fishing. In response to these problems the groups interviewd expressed the need for the establishement of more conservation areas and empowerment of the communities to protect the seagrasses.
During the second phase of the study a household survey will be conducted in all villages to obtain more quantitative data on the contribution of services obtained from seagrasses to local livelihoods, the problems in the area and future outlook of the general populous.
The report, to be completed by mid-Novemeber, is expected to validate the importance of the seagrass ecosystem to the coastal communities and livelihood security. Furthermore, it will contribute to the discussion on sustainable coastal management.
By Agne Kaarlep