17 Apr 2019

Protected status secured for Cambodia’s Stung Sen wetlands

Thanks to the work of BirdLife International Cambodia Programme, the rich and biologically diverse Stung Sen wetland has been designated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, protecting the habitat of important species such as the Lesser Adjutant.

Lesser Adjutant © Bjorn Olessen
By Shannon Anstee

Under the sweltering Cambodian sun, a Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus wades through the freshwater swamps of the Tonle Sap Great Lake. Within Tonle Sap lies Stung Sen, a unique wetland characterised by old-growth forest that undergoes seasonal flooding. Nearby, low-stature shrubland and natural grassland provide crucial foraging grounds for the Lesser Adjutant.

This imposing stork feasts on the abundance of fish and invertebrates that reside in Stung Sen. The rich feeding grounds offered by the wetland also attract number of globally Near Threatened species, such as Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis and Oriental Darter Anhinga melanogaster.

But the site doesn’t just benefit wildlife. It also plays an important role in flood mitigation during the rainy season, holding up water that would otherwise inundate nearby settlements. It recharges the area’s groundwater and purifies it through its aquatic plants and trees. All of this is crucial in providing local communities with water for households and agriculture.

“Stung Sen is significantly important in the region as habitat for a number of globally threatened species, the migratory pathway and feeding ground for water birds, and important habitat for mammals” says Reiko Iitsuka, Senior Regional Advisor for Asia/Oceania of the Ramsar Secretariat.

Unfortunately, this area is under increasing threat from expanding and intensifying agriculture, as well as from overfishing and hunting. Thankfully for the species and people that rely on this abundant habitat, the wetlands of Stung Sen has just been protected as a Ramsar Site.

“Recognition as an internationally important wetland will bring significant benefits to this site including more protection support from international, national and regional communities. We also hope to conserve the wetland through sustainable use, including eco-tourism” says Dr Tsubasa Iwabuchi, Senior Programme Officer, BirdLife International Tokyo, who supported the designation process alongside the Ministry of the Environment, Government of Japan.

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Thirty per cent of Cambodia is covered by wetlands, the majority of which have been identified as globally important for the wetland ecosystems and biodiversity. The work that BirdLife International Cambodia has undertaken in order to achieve this recognition is important in securing the future of these vital habitats.

Since 2008, Ministry of Environment, Royal Government of Cambodia, and BirdLife International have been working together towards designating more wetlands as Ramsar Sites to strengthen the conservation of the countries’ wetlands. Stung Sen Wetland is the second major Ramsar output; the first was the successful designation of Prek Toal as a Ramsar Site in 2015.

“Recognizing Stung Sen as a Ramsar Site not only draws attention to the international importance of this wetland but it will be a bridge for Cambodia to nominate more wetlands as Ramsar Sites in the future”, said H.E. Say Samal, Minister of Environment of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

“Attaining Ramsar status for this wetland will help draw international and national interest towards this unique site.” said Bou Vorsak, BirdLife International Cambodia’s Programme Manager. Alongside international recognition, the designation of a Ramsar site enforces government protection. Allowing the wetland to be managed effectively and maintain their ecological characteristics that make Stung Sen such a thriving wetland.