In Praise of Mangroves

Today is World Wetlands Day, which commemorates the day in 1971 that the Convention on Wetlands was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar (hence the List of Wetlands of International Importance or Ramsar sites), which to this day remains the only international treaty devoted to a single ecosystem type. Through the Ramsar Convention, over 476,000 acres of wetland have been protected.1 Since 1997, February 2 has been devoted to raising awareness of the importance of wetlands.

As all the wetlands at our research site, Peam Krasoap Wildlife Sanctuary (PKWS) are coastal mangroves, we’re focusing on their importance and role in the wider biome to mark the day.

Mangroves: an overview

“The value of mangroves has been hugely overlooked. Mangroves are incredibly valuable, left standing,” the words of senior marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy and lead author of the UNEP commissioned World Atlas of Mangroves, Mark Spalding.

As Earth Watch observes: “the stilt-like mangrove is an unlikely superhero.” But as we shall see, mangroves have a vital role to play in maintaining coastal ecological health,2 as well as in reduction of disaster risk3, which is the theme of World Wetlands Day 2017 (WWD17). “WWD17 will focus on how wetlands can be protected, restored, and managed effectively to help absorb the shocks of natural disasters,”4 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports. This follows a UN Water estimate that 90% of all natural hazards are water-related.5

This animation from the Mangrove Action Project illustrates the growing importance of mangroves to the health of the planet:

The Mangrove Action Project – Mangrove Forest Restoration & Conservation

The animation illustrates the growing importance of mangroves to the health of the planet; storing in some cases 5x more carbon than inland rainforests, being an integral link between land and ocean, adapting to sea level rise, protecting and producing for coastal communities, and helping to mitigate climate change.

What’s a Mangrove?

Mangroves are salt-water tolerant shrubs and trees that grow in shallow, tropical coastal waters,” states one official World Wetlands Day document.

‘Mangrove’ can refer to the mangrove habitat, just as the term ‘rainforest’ is a designation based on plant types. The habitat may also be called a ‘tidal forest’ or a ‘mangrove forest’.6

Go inside a mangrove forest with this video from the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, a “non-profit environmental science organization and ocean research foundation established to help preserve, protect and restore the world’s oceans and aquatic resources through researcheducation, and outreach.”

Inside the Mangrove Forest

Welcome to the mangrove forest, where the daily rhythm of the tides sets the pace. These coastal wetlands create a sanctuary for an extraordinary range of creatures, 3/4 of all tropical fish are born here and countless reptiles and birds call this ecosystem home.

Where are mangroves found?

Forming dense forests, they are found along many tropical and subtropical coasts, from South America to Asia, from Africa to New Zealand, in 123 countries and territories in total, with an estimated cover of over 150,000km² globally.7

Global mangrove distribution map taken from Mangrove Watch Ltd. (2013)

Mangrove species are divided into two global hemispheres: the Atlantic East Pacific (AEP) covering west Africa and the Americas, and the Indo West Pacific (IWP), which covers east Africa and the Asia-Pacific, which contains the most diverse mangrove flora.8

Cambodia’s mangroves are concentrated in the Indo-Malesia subregion of the IWP.

What makes mangroves special?

Amongst the planet’s most complex ecosystems, mangrove forests “flourish where most plants perish”, growing in conditions of searing heat, low-oxygen soils and frequent saltwater inundation.9

The loss of natural wetland area (estimated to be in excess of 64% since 190010) has resulted in a loss of many of the benefits associated with wetlands (see below). Estimates of the value of these lost services stand at around $7.2 trillion per year for tidal marshes and mangroves.11

Despite their priceless biodiversity and valuable ecosystem services, mangroves are in rapid decline, threatened with drainage for agriculture, degradation, pollution, and destruction at an alarming pace,” according to a World Wetlands Day media release by the IUCN.

For an infographic on the multiple values of mangroves see here.

Why are mangroves important?

See a short summary video from the Mangrove Action Project below:

Importance of Mangrove Forests

Read more here – More people are realizing the importance of mangrove forests, yet these habitats are still disappearing at an astonishing rate.


Wetlands are some of the most productive habitats on the planet, which often support high densities of animals, including mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates.12

The nutrients available from mangrove leaves and roots nourish plankton, algae, fish and shellfish, with mangrove forests’ stilt and prop root systems acting as nurseries.

Mangroves at Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary where we work are no exception (see a brief video of PKWS here).

Water Filtration and Purification

The UNEP’s Coastal Ecosystem-Based Adaptation page for Mangrove Conservation and Restoration lists that, amongst additional benefits for biodiversity which may result from mangrove conservation and restoration, “mangroves filter and trap sediment from run-off and river water before it reaches adjacent ecosystems, reducing the turbidity of the water and allowing essential light to reach ecosystems.” Concluding that, “mangroves therefore contribute to the survival of these adjacent ecosystems and the species they support.”13 The World Atlas of Mangroves estimates that mangrove related species in Southeast Asia support 30% of fish catch, rising to almost 100% for shrimp catch.14

Mangroves filter catchment runoff, prompting some to dub them the “kidneys” of the coast. This filtration helps to reduce shoreline erosion. For a brief explanation of how mangroves filter coastal water, see this video below:

Into the Mangrove Forest | UnderH2O | PBS Digital Studios

The mangrove forest is a place of amazement both above and below the waterline. Mangroves have the unique ability to live in salt water, and they use their highly specialized roots to filter salt, inhale oxygen, and extract nutrients from an environment that other trees can not tolerate.

Urban centres near mangroves benefit from this in practical ways; according to the WWF, some cities have made savings of $3-8 billion in new wastewater treatment plants by purchasing and preserving $1.5 billion in wetlands around reservoirs.

Organizations such as the Biomimicry Institute, which “empowers people to create nature-inspired solutions for a healthy planet” are supporting efforts to research, recreate and harness mangrove-like technology to transform salty water into potable water. For more on biomimicry of mangroves’ filtration, see our technology section here.

Reduction of disaster risk (for a summary see here)

Mangrove roots bind the shoreline, and prevent coastal erosion.15 Forests act as bulwarks to storm winds and incoming waves16 17 associated with extreme weather events, the frequency of which is expected to increase due to human-induced climate change.

A 2014 review of all existing research into the role of mangroves in coastal protection described how a 100 metre wide belt of mangrove can reduce wave heights by 13-66%, and up to 100% where mangroves reach 500 metres or more in width.18

According to the Ramsar Convention, Each kilometer of mangrove forest can reduce a storm surge by 50cm, blunting the impact of cyclones/hurricanes and tsunamis,” Healthy wetlands can absorb some of the shock caused by extreme weather events, cushioning the damage in local communities. Evidence points to mangroves having mitigated the impact of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami by reducing the destructive energy of water which flowed inland.19

The island town of Silonay in the Philippines provides an even more dramatic example. In 2009, the town was identified by scientists from Conservation International as among the areas most vulnerable to climate change impacts within the Verde Island passage.20 “But the scientists also explained that the town’s residents also had an unprecedented opportunity: to protect its serendipitous mangroves to help protect themselves.”

Silonay Mangrove Conservation Area Overflight

Silonay, situated in the eastern portion of Calapan, has been losing its mangrove forest due to rampant cutting of trees by residents to sell for firewood making it highly vulnerable to storm surges. With its natural protective barrier diminished, more than 100 houses were wiped out during a past typhoon.

They were proved right: when Typhoon Haiyan (the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall anywhere in the world) passed over Silonay in 2013, the mangroves kept Haiyan’s waves at bay; the town didn’t flood, unlike elsewhere in the Philipines where Haiyan devastated communities, claiming 6,000 lives, and displacing 4 million people.21

The short documentary below shows the island of Koh Klang in the Krabi river estuary in Southern Thailand, where mangroves have depleted greatly in the last 50 years, how people have been affected, and  what is being done to restore these habitats to secure a more sustainable future.

Mangroves : Reducing the Risk of Disaster through Nature-Based Solutions

The coastal mangrove forest is the buffer between land and sea, playing the critical role of protecting the land and coastal communities from storms, wind and erosion. The short documentary takes us to an island in Southern Thailand illustrating how mangroves have depleted greatly in the last 50 years, how people have been affected, and shows what is being done to restore these habitats to secure a more sustainable future.

There is also evidence that mangroves support soil stabilization and sediment capture, and further, that they are able to build up soil levels vertically (accrete) through formation of layers of peat.22

This in turn means that under the right conditions, mangroves may keep up with sea level rise.23 Additional evidence has found that mangroves act as a refuge for corals from ocean acidification.24

Absorbing excess water from floods, dispersing tidal surges associated with these events and storing water during droughts,25 mangroves can help strengthen people and nature’s resilience to disaster impacts.26

To see how mangroves can  contribute to risk reduction in different settings see here.

Climate change

Mangroves’ ability to trap organic sediment and thus store carbon explains why mangroves are increasingly referred to as ‘blue carbon’ sinks. Moreover, as mangroves age, they store proportionally more carbon in their biomass because of higher productivity.30 Where data is available, they have been shown to capture up to six times more carbon per hectare than undisturbed rainforests.31

Mangrove forests are the ultimate illustration of why humans need nature,” says Mark Spalding, lead author of the World Atlas of Mangroves and senior marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy. He continues that the importance of mangroves’ “natural coastal defenses… will only grow as sea level rise becomes a reality around the world.”32

Threats to Mangroves

Mangroves and tidal saltmarshes are amongst the most endangered marine wetland habitats worldwide.” That’s according to Mangrove Watch, a monitoring program which partners mangrove scientists and community participants the world over. These wetlands are disappearing at up to 2% a year on average,33 with destruction occurring up to four times faster than within the world’s land-based forests, according to the World Atlas of Mangroves report. Consequently, there has been a dramatic loss of ecosystem services from mangroves with vast losses in area and function as remnant patches progressively deteriorate.34

Mangroves in Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary (PKWS)


Koh Kapik and Associated Islets, (KKAI) is made up of alluvial islands immediately off the mainland of Koh Kong province.

Taken from Ramsar Sites Information Service document

Spanning a total of 12,000ha, of which 60% is located within PKWS (see below), the area was designated as a Ramsar site in mid-1999.

The area is characterized by “substantial tracts of intact mangrove forest”, much of it inundated during the spring tides only. The relatively-intact mangroves mean that the area contributes significantly in the stabilization of the coast against coastal erosion from storm and tidal bore, and furthermore the mangroves are said to have assumed increased importance in providing nursery and feeding grounds for various invertebrate species since the substantial removal of mangrove forests in nearby Thailand.35


The inflow from two major rivers, Prek Koh Pao in the North, and Prek Khlang Yai/Stung Kep in the South is essential for maintenance of the site’s brackish-water character, which supports an assemblage of brackish-water plankton and fish populations, the food base for the majority of birds which use the site. The estuary-mangrove system plays a critical role as a nursery ground and nutrient resort for the adjacent coastal fish populations, supporting very valuable fisheries which provide the main income for coastal fishermen communities.36

Species in PKWS mangroves


Criteria applied to the designation of KKAI as a Ramsar site included its special value to endemic plant or animal species.


Of the eight IUCN red-listed mammal species identified by locals in 2009 village surveys, (in An Dara et al 2009), three were recorded within PKWS during the brief 2015 CBC Fishing Cat survey, in addition to: Hog Deer, Asian Water Monitor, Leopard Cat, Large-Spotted Civet, Asian Mongoose, Smooth-Coated Otters and of course, Fishing Cat!37

The following significant birds species have been recorded in Koh Kapik and Associated Islets : Nordmann’s or Spotted Greenshank, Green Peafowl, both Endangered, and Sarus Crane, now listed Vulnerable.


Of over 50 mangrove species found in Asia, 37 species are present in Cambodia. PWKS represents a mangrove ecosystem of: Brownlowia tersa, Sonneratia ovata, which are both Near Threatened; Rhizophora stylosa, Rhizophora mucronata, Rhizophora apiculata, all Least Concern, backed by Lumnitzera littorea, Lumnitzera racemosa, both Least Concern and Phoenix paludosa, (Mangrove Date Palm), which is Near Threatened. The current population trends of all these species are decreasing across their geographic range.

Within PKWS, local Cambodian coral experts have identified 56 different types of hard and soft corals38 amongst the 600 hectares around Koh Kong province.

The below video explains the symbiotic relationship between coral reefs and coastal mangroves:

Mangrove management

As World Atlas of Mangroves author Mark Spalding points out, mangroves can be restored.39 Although mangrove management requires a degree of specialised knowledge and equipment, as the UNEP’s page on Coastal Ecosystem-Based Adaptation states,“many aspects of conservation and restoration can be implemented at the community level40, for example in re-planting activities.”

In the below video Lecturer in Environmental Marine Biology at the University of Hull, UK, Dr Magnus Johnson explains how mangrove seedlings naturally establish themselves:

Mangrove Lecture

Video Lecture pilot recorded in a Mangrove swamp on the island of Hoga, Indonesia during the Scarborough Campus Expedition. Presented by Scarborough Campus Lecturer Dr Magnus Johnson.

“Why are mangroves so important? How are they under threat? And what can we do to help protect them? This short video  sets out to answer those questions, using photographs from all around the tropics, encouraging participation and help spread awareness of the mangrove forest.” – Mangrove Action Project

The national World Wetlands Day event in 2013 included the planting of over 200 kg of grass and more than 500 mangrove seedlings in PKWS and Peam Krasop beach where erosion was reported.

The event drew in 650 participants, including national and provincial government ministers, representatives from the Ministry of Environment and IUCN Cambodia office, University students from Phnom Penh, local students from nearby primary and secondary schools and members of communities.

Kong Kim Sreng (whose 2003 survey yielded the only camera-trap photo of a Fishing Cat in Cambodia previous to the 2015 CBC Fishing Cat survey), then Senior Programme coordinator for IUCN Cambodia, now Director of Terrestrial Protected Area Conservation at the Ministry of Environment, reiterated the importance of wetlands and water, speaking of water as analogous to the body’s blood and wetlands to blood vessels.41

International Organisations working to restore mangroves

The Mangrove Action Project partners with “mangrove forest communities, grassroots NGOs, researchers, and local governments to conserve and restore mangrove forests and related coastal ecosystems, while promoting community-based sustainable management of coastal resources.” See a summary of their activities here and a video about their award winning Community-Based Ecological Mangrove Restoration (CBEMR) model below:

Community-Based Ecological Mangrove Restoration

Our award winning Community-Based Ecological Mangrove Restoration (CBEMR) model focuses on understanding the site and correcting the problems that caused the mangrove loss in the first place ensuring a more successful restoration. This well-considered model directly engages local community participation, resulting in a successful, cost effective long-term protection of the restored sites.

For more on mangrove recovery and restoration see here.

Mangroves and the Cambodian Fishing Cat Project

The success of community-led vegetation planting depends on local commitment; awareness-raising campaigns may assist in promoting local efforts to protect mangroves.42 In time, it’s likely that the Project’s activities will include habitat restoration and re-wilding, which we hope may instill a sense of community ownership and responsibility for natural resource management.

Want to help?

Aside from work on the ground, or supporting organisations which work to protect mangroves, one of the single most important things you can do to help mangroves as an individual is by being an ecologically responsible consumer: choose your seafood wisely. Although no longer widely practiced in PKWS, elsewhere in the world huge tracts of mangrove forest have been lost to shrimp aquaculture. This video from the Mangrove Action Project explains:

Question Your Shrimp

For more information please visit – or The Question Your Shrimp campaign is currently working to gather support from restaurants, chefs, retailers, & consumers who are pledging not to serve or buy unhealthy imported shrimp. By raising awareness & changing consumer demand in the U.S.

In this video people in southern Thailand’s Trang Province explain why they won’t raise shrimp, but will instead continue to conserve their mangroves as they have done since 1984.

You can help the cause of Fishing Cats and their mangrove habitat in Cambodia by donating to the Project here.


Or donate to the cause of other species in the mangroves, for example, consider making a donation to our newest partner, Wildlife Alliance, especially to their campaign to provide an enrichment waterfall within their Otter enclosure at their wildlife rescue centre, Phnom Tamao.

They currently have a lively family of Smooth-coated Otters and Pursat, the only Hairy-nosed Otter in captivity in the world.

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center

To lighten up your Friday, here is Pursat the Hairy-nosed Otter fetching his dinner and checking out his new rope toy! He is likely the only one in captivity in the world and it is wonderful to watch his movement in the water!

If suitable habitat is found with sufficient protections, these otters may one day be released back into the wild.

Stay tuned for forthcoming blogs about Wildlife Alliance and all the superb work that they do.


1“Wetlands.” WWF. World Wildlife Fund, 2017. Retrieved from Accessed on 2 February 2017.

2Mangrove Watch Ltd. (2013) Global Mangroves: Mangroves – Kidneys Of The Coast. Retrieved from Accessed on 1 February 2017.

3Wetlands International. “What are Wetlands?” Retrieved from Accessed on 1 February 2017.

4IUCN (2017) World Wetlands Day: “Bolstering resilience and collaboration to reduce disaster risk” (26 January 2017 media release) Retrieved from Accessed on 1 February 2017.

5United Nations, World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP) Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risk:

World Water Development Report (12 March 2012). Available from

6Mangrove Watch Ltd. (2013) Mangroves Defined, retrieved from Accessed on 1 February 2017.

7Spalding M, McIvor A, Tonneijck FH, Tol S and van Eijk P (2014) Mangroves for coastal defence. Guidelines for coastal managers & policy makers. (Wetlands International and The Nature Conservancy)

8Mangrove Watch Ltd. (2013) Global Mangroves: Mangroves – Kidneys Of The Coast. Retrieved from Accessed on 1 February 2017.

10Davidson Nick C. (2014) How much wetland has the world lost? Long-term and recent trends in global wetland area. Marine and Freshwater Research 65, 934-941. Retrieved from Accessed on 2 February 2017.

11IUCN (2017) World Wetlands Day: Bolstering resilience and collaboration to reduce disaster risk (26 January 2017 media release) Retrieved from Accessed on 1 February 2017.

12“Wetlands.” WWF. World Wildlife Fund, 2017. Retrieved from Accessed on 2 February 2017.

13Gillis, L. G., Bouma, T. J., Jones, C. G., Van Katwijk, M. M., Nagelkerken, I., Jeuken, C. J. L., … & Ziegler, A. D. (2014). Potential for landscape-scale positive interactions among tropical marine ecosystems. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 503, 289-303.

14United Nations Environment Programme (14 July 2010), “Mangroves Report Reveals Threats & Opportunities to Global Economy & the Planet”. Retrieved from Accessed on 2 February 2017

15Mazda, Y., Magi, M., Ikeda, Y., Kurokawa, T., & Asano, T. (2006). Wave reduction in a mangrove forest dominated by Sonneratia sp. Wetlands Ecology and Management, 14(4), 365-378.

16Zhang, K., Liu, H., Li, Y., Xu, H., Shen, J., Rhome, J., & Smith, T. J. (2012). The role of mangroves in attenuating storm surges. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 102, 11-23.

17Gedan, K. B., Kirwan, M. L., Wolanski, E., Barbier, E. B., & Silliman, B. R. (2011). The present and future role of coastal wetland vegetation in protecting shorelines: answering recent challenges to the paradigm. Climatic Change, 106(1), 7-29.

18Spalding M, McIvor A, Tonneijck FH, Tol S and van Eijk P (2014) Mangroves for coastal defence. Guidelines for coastal managers & policy makers. (Wetlands International and The Nature Conservancy)

19Spalding M, McIvor A, Tonneijck FH, Tol S and van Eijk P (2014) Mangroves for coastal defence. Guidelines for coastal managers & policy makers. (Wetlands International and The Nature Conservancy)

20Bergen, M., Conservational International, “The Giving Trees: How an accidental forest saved a village from a storm for the ages” Retrieved from Accessed on 2 February.

21UNHCR (7 November 2014) “1-year on from Typhoon Haiyan, thousands of people still rebuilding lives.” Retrieved from Accessed on 2 February 2017.

22Lee, S. Y., Primavera, J. H., Dahdouh‐Guebas, F., McKee, K., Bosire, J. O., Cannicci, S., … & Mendelssohn, I. (2014). Ecological role and services of tropical mangrove ecosystems: a reassessment. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 23(7), 726-743.

23McKee, K. L., Cahoon, D. R., & Feller, I. C. (2007). Caribbean mangroves adjust to rising sea level through biotic controls on change in soil elevation. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 16(5), 545-556.

24Yates, K. K., Rogers, C. S., Herlan, J. J., Brooks, G. R., Smiley, N. A., & Larson, R. A. (2014). Diverse coral communities in mangrove habitats suggest a novel refuge from climate change. Biogeosciences, 4321.

25IUCN (2017) World Wetlands Day: Bolstering resilience and collaboration to reduce disaster risk (26 January 2017 media release) Retrieved from Accessed on 1 February 2017.

26IUCN (2017) World Wetlands Day: Bolstering resilience and collaboration to reduce disaster risk (26 January 2017 media release) Retrieved from Accessed on 1 February 2017.

27Scholander, P. F. (1968), How Mangroves Desalinate Seawater. Physiologia Plantarum, 21: 251–261. Retrieved from doi:10.1111/j.1399-3054.1968.tb07248.x Accessed 2 February 2017.

28Attenborough, D., Salisbury, M., Nightingale, N., Haynes, I., Elsbury, M., Payne, J., & Olive, S. (1995). The private life of plants. BBC.

29Waisel, Y., Eshel, A. and Agami, M. (1986), Salt balance of leaves of the mangrove Avicennia marina. Physiologia Plantarum, 67: 67–72. doi:10.1111/j.1399-3054.1986.tb01264.x

30Kristensen, E., Bouillon, S., Dittmar, T., & Marchand, C. (2008). Organic carbon dynamics in mangrove ecosystems: a review. Aquatic Botany, 89(2), 201-219.

32United Nations Enviroment Programme (14 July 2010), “Mangroves Report Reveals Threats & Opportunities to Global Economy & the Planet”. Retrieved from Accessed on 2 February 2017

33Mangrove Watch Ltd. (2013) Global Mangroves: Mangroves – Kidneys Of The Coast. Retrieved from Accessed on 1 February 2017.

34Mangrove Watch Ltd. (2013) Global Mangroves: Mangroves – Kidneys Of The Coast. Retrieved from Accessed on 1 February 2017.

35Ramsar Convention (8 July 1999) Cambodia becomes the 116th Contracting Party

36Ramsar Convention Information Sheet on Ramsar Wetlands (RIS): KH998RIS (2009-2012 version) Available from

37Ramsar Convention Information Sheet on Ramsar Wetlands (RIS): KH998RIS (2009-2012 version) Available from

38Ramsar Convention Information Sheet on Ramsar Wetlands (RIS): KH998RIS (2009-2012 version) Available from

39Maxwell Braun, D. (July 14, 2010) Taking stock of mangroves, thin frontlines of diversity, National Geographic Society. Retrieved from Accessed on 2 February 2017.

40Zhu, X., Linham, M. M., & Nicholls, R. J. (2010). Technologies for climate change adaptation-Coastal erosion and flooding.

41Bou, V. (2013) Report of World Wetlands Day 2013 in Cambodia (Ramsar Convention and BirdLife International Cambodia) Retrieved from Accessed on 1 February 2017.

42Zhu, X., Linham, M. M., & Nicholls, R. J. (2010). Technologies for climate change adaptation-Coastal erosion and flooding.


Braun, D.M (14 July 2010), “ ‘Atlas of Mangroves’ highlights global loss of tidal forests”, National Geographic Society. Retrieved from Accessed on 2 February 2017

IUCN (2017) World Wetlands Day: Bolstering resilience and collaboration to reduce disaster risk (26 January 2017 media release) Retrieved from Accessed on 1 February 2017.

Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (2016) Five wetlands that help us cope with extreme weather events. Retrieved from Accessed on 2 February 2017.

United National Environment Programme (19 July 2010), “CNN: Mangroves disappearing faster than land-based forests, THE ENVIRONMENT IN THE NEWS: UNEP and the Executive Director in the News. Retrieved from Accessed on 2 February 2017.

World Fish (2013) Coral Triangle Atlas. Retrieved from Accessed on 2 February 2017.    Send article as PDF   

Field Trip with a Twist

We’ve  just returned from an extra special field trip – not only could all our team make it out to PKWS to check camera-traps and conduct workshops with communities, but we were joined by 2 volunteers:  seasoned tracker extraordinaire Abel Ferrer from Spain and Biology graduate Alba Maya all the way from Mexico!

They joined  our Community and Research teams to deliver training to PKWS  rangers on tracking using materials developed by Vanessa, supplemented by existing materials from Wildlife Alliance:

Excerpt from the Khmer translation of the tracking training document

Footprint identification document: Wildlife Alliance

Training PKWS rangers

This was just a small part of the 2 days’ training our team conducted, which opened with a plenary for rangers to share their views, experience  and perceptions of wildlife within their patrol area. This allowed for insight into rangers’ knowledge, passion and motivation for the job.

Day 1: Theory

We also screened photo and video captures from our camera-traps- to enable greater understanding of our scope of work- and invited comments from rangers.

The team facilitated interactive mapping of the area, with rangers contributing local names of streams, plus indicating where and how often they patrol, what they see at each location etc – these insights will inform future camera-trap placements.

Also on the agenda was discussion of a wildlife data collection system, including implementation of a user-friendly system to train on SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) in future.

By the end of the day, we had jointly identified key sites to visit on Day 2.

Day 2: Practice

A group of 12, we set out on boats to check out the sites and replace a camera-trap at a since discovered good site for Fishing Cat.

Vanessa demonstrates camera-trap operation

Along the way, we talked wildlife in the area and trained rangers in setting up camera-traps.

Sothearen explains camera trap set-up

Our hope is that this immersive engagement can form the basis of future collaboration and knowledge-sharing with PKWS rangers.

Most exciting of all, together we searched for a spot to deploy a new camera-trap.

The sign of a good day: new camera-trap set and ready to go!

This is just the first step – on upcoming field trips we aim to deepen this knowledge base, build capacity and contribute resources to make the work of rangers in the area more impactful and gather more detailed data about wildlife in the area- watch this space!

We would like to thank our donor Panthera for their continued support in this endeavour.    Send article as PDF   

Looking back on 2017

The Cambodian Fishing Cat Project is 1 year old! Our first year was eventful and exciting for the Fishing Cat team! We caught more Fishing Cats (and other species!) on camera, kept our ears to the ground for new data on threats, asked communities the right questions, braved the hardcore mangrove conditions and forged new relationships and initiatives to improve biodiversity.

Here’s our Round up of February 2017- February 2018:

Caught on camera

Since February 2017, we have deployed camera-traps at over 50 sites within PKWS and the adjoining Ramsar site Koh Kapik and Associated Islets, and Botum Sakor National Park.

Fishing Cat

In the five months from August 2017 to January 2018 alone, we obtained 17 more Fishing Cat records at one new area of Koh Kapik island and four other areas where they were previously recorded, on a total of seven cameras.

Some of the photos and videos were of sufficient quality to be added to individual identification analyses. The Fishing Cat Working Group agree that one of the photos possibly shows a young Fishing Cat, which supports our initial hypothesis that there is a breeding population in Koh Kapik island.

Juvenile Fishing Cat , as tentatively confirmed by The Fishing Cat Working Group

Perhaps even more excitingly, diurnal Fishing Cat activity was recorded at sites regularly visited by people, suggesting low levels of disturbance and threat within the mangroves. Check out these videos:

Fishing Cat early morning stroll

A Fishing Cat takes an early morning stroll past our cameras down to the water’s edge. Although the spot is popular with otters, macaques and civets, this is the first Fishing Cat capture since this camera was placed.

Fishing Cat early morning stroll Pt 2

After walking off-camera, this Fishing Cat completes its walk back towards the trees. Perhaps the cat paused to do a quick spot of fishing in those few intervening minutes?

Other species

Endangered Hairy-nosed Otter and Large-spotted Civet

One suspected record of Hairy-nosed Otter obtained in early 2017 was corroborated by the IUCN Otter Specialist Group.

We also obtained records of Large-spotted Civet.

We will continue to focus on these two species and include them in our training, awareness and threat prevention activities.

New Data on Threats to the Fishing Cat


Over the course of the year, we were made aware of potential threats:

  • Communities (including floating villages on the Tonle Sap Lake, Siem Reap Province and within Ream National Park, Sihanoukville) keeping “Fishing Cats” in cages, intended to attract tourists and/or sell for meat

  • Sale of wild meat, especially along major roads leaving capital Phnom Penh, which vendors described to customers as “Fishing Cat.”

In all cases, the cats transpired as the less rare Leopard Cat but such incidents may drive demand for Fishing Cat.

Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary (PKWS)

Interviews with villagers early in 2017 suggested that Fishing Cats which had raided and damaged fishing nets had been targeted in retaliatory killings. Later interviews indicate a change for the better: villagers no longer perceive fishing cats as a threat to their livelihoods, and showed increased awareness of their importance after we provided information and materials.

It has come to our attention that harvest of crabs and shellfish might not be sustainable in the long-term and do not provide sufficient income for some households, in addition to scarce access to drinking water, which can drive illegal activities such as cutting trees and snaring.

To address this, we will strive to facilitate access to fresh water as well as direct, higher value chains for mangrove products, including crabs, shellfish, shrimp, squid and honey from rafter beekeeping while connecting initiatives to conservation agreements which set lower harvesting quotas and reduce illegal activities.

Community engagement

We continued learning from and listening to communities throughout the year but the highlight has to be sharing our findings with villagers! In January 2018, we held an exhibition of photos of Fishing Cats, as well as people, with those featured encouraged to take photos home, with the first to claim them receiving branded Project refillable water bottles as a gift.

Later we held a screening of camera-trap videos featuring our activities, and different species captured, with project facilitators sharing insights on their natural history. We also screened “Cambodia’s Forgotten Wildlife,” a film by Cambodian wildlife photographer Senglim SUY focused on raising awareness of the importance of Cambodian wildlife.

Responses were positive at both villages but the community team reports perceiving a more active interest and participation at Koh Kapik village than at Koh Sralao village.

Community officers had a one to one interview with PKWS director, which indicated his interest in the Project providing training to rangers on species identification and natural history, species monitoring and use of technologies such as SMART. He also detailed their budget constrains and suggested possibilities for financial support of their activities, which we will follow up on into 2018.

Mangrove adventures

Every field trip has its difficulties, but the salinity, humidity and ever-changing tides in mangroves proved to be tough on us and our cameras!

In June, we were fortunate to be joined by German filmmaker Ryan Anderson who tracked our movements through the mangroves with interest, and was a great sport when the boat he was in got stuck in a creek at low tide, taking the opportunity to admire beauty and stillness of the scene. We are delighted with the results of his hard work, which you can see on our YouTube channel.

Introducing the Kla Trey | Cambodian Fishing Cat Project

Meet team Kla Trey- we study the Fishing Cat, a wild cat species which faces “high risk of extinction throughout its range.” We push deep into remote areas of mangrove in Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary (PKWS), southwest Cambodia which are virtually unexplored by science to further survey what could be one of the last strongholds for Fishing Cat in Southeast Asia.


The day after Ryan left, one of our Research Assistants Sarady got a huge surprise: seeing a Fishing Cat in broad daylight! Seeing wild cats is always unexpected – the nocturnal and rare Fishing Cat is no exception! Sarady was quick on his feet and snapped this photo on his phone.

In October 2017, we were joined in the field by a TV crew from Channel News Asia who were visiting our new collaborators, 4 Rivers Floating Lodge for lifestyle series on Glamping, In Pursuit of Magic.