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Field notes from “Cambodia’s beating heart”

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Nicknamed Cambodia’s “beating heart,” the vast Tonle Sap Lake is Southeast Asia’s largest. Now, the country is trying to stop the loss of its lifeblood: the fish that thrive in these waters.

Each year, during the monsoon season, the Tonle Sap more than quadruples in size. For the 3 million people who call its floodplain home, those seasonal floods bring food: The Tonle Sap and Cambodia’s other inland fisheries yield 500,000 tons of
fish each year, worth an estimated $2 billion annually.

But for years, fish stocks have been declining.

Climate change, upstream dams and illegal and unregulated fishing are threatening the food and financial security of the Tonle Sap Lake communities. In the unusually long, hot and dry summer of 2016, nearly a third of the seasonally flooded forests around Tonle Sap were burned in wildfires started to harvest charcoal, damaging critical habitat that the lake’s more than 200 species of fish rely on.

First step: Stop overfishing

The Cambodian government is working to address these threats and to restore fish stocks. Since 2013, the government…

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