From May to June 2013, Ms Petchrung Sukpong and Mr Louis Bourne were part of the IUCN team surveying seagrass in Kampot province, Cambodia. Ms Sukpong hails from Hua Hin in Thailand, and studied environmental planning for her Master’s degree. Specialising in coastal management, she developed this academic interest whilst working on coral reef rehabilitation in Phuket. She later joined IUCN’s Thailand programme to provide technical support for marine and coastal conservation. Her colleague, Mr Bourne, is a British-Thai resident of Chiang Mai in Thailand. After living in numerous countries across the world, he went on to pursue marine biology at Newcastle University in the UK. Together, they conducted fieldwork and compiled results, with the support of their team representing Department of Environment (DoE) and Department of Fisheries Administration (FiA) on the field and IUCN colleagues.
Tell us in a nutshell about the seagrass survey.
Petchrung: As part of IUCN’s Building Coastal Resilience project, we were to conduct a baseline survey of seagrass in Kampot province, Cambodia. This would allow for a status update on seagrass; to understand its extent, and the impact of local development projects upon its coverage. Kampot has a long coastal belt of around 66.5 km. We divided this belt into four sections and studied them accordingly. This survey provided us with the bigger picture in relation to seagrass cover.
Louis: The previous report on seagrass was produced by United Nations Environment Programme in 2004. Using multiple methods for data collection, we will provide the latest information on seagrass cover in Kampot. We are helping to fill a ten-year long information gap.
What were your roles during the seagrass survey in Cambodia?
Petchrung: I was the team leader, so I made key decisions on-site for collecting data and studying the results. I participated in consultations with local communities to validate the area of existing seagrass and also undertook participatory mapping. Along with the team, I then compiled data from the seagrass survey using GIS (geographic information system) mapping.
Louis: I assisted in capacity building with the DoE and the FiA. I helped in conducting surveys and to work with colleagues on the field site. I also contributed to analysis of the data.
What were some key findings of the seagrass survey you conducted?
Louis: We have found a new record off the coast of Kampot. Along with our team, we located two areas where the seagrass called Estuarine spoon-grass (Halophila beccarii) is found. This specie is in the ‘VULNERABLE’ (VU) category of the IUCN Red List, and documenting its location will be important for conservation. By analysing past data, we also observed that the seagrass bed has reduced by more than 50% over the last ten years.
Petchrung: Together with our team, we observed that local development projects are coming up in the region, which will result in damaging the extent and coverage of seagrass. That said, we noted that the seagrass is relatively healthy in some areas. We saw that the local people depend upon seagrass for their livelihood and as a source of food. The next step for us will be to determine the economic value of seagrass in the province, particularly the monetary benefits they provide to the local community.
How do you think the results of the survey can be applied in the future?
Petchpong: The data we have collected is very detailed and informative. It can be used to plan which areas can be demarcated for protecting seagrass, for local livelihoods, and for development projects respectively. This will help to provide an understanding of how to find a balance between development projects and seagrass conservation. It will also assist in reducing conflicting interests between development and conservation activities in the region.
Louis: The data we have analysed will provide good information for residents in the area as well as for the local government in Kampot. It is not only to fulfil wider BCR objectives, but will facilitate integrated coastal zone management in the province.
A full seagrass survey report will be completed in the next few months and can be downloaded from BCR webpage.
By Ria Sen, Communications Intern