Cardamoms/Tonle Sap Film

Flooded Forest on the Tonle Sap Lake

Flooded Forest on the Tonle Sap Lake

This has been a great project to work on and it was only the second job I’ve had that entailed traveling abroad. Laos was very interesting although a little too quite for me I think, it’s a bit of a cross between Cambodia and Thailand, except without the masses of people. Thailand turned out to be a bit of a nightmare with the riots and curfews, but I got the shots I wanted so it was worth all the overland traveling.

The film is about the link between the Cardamom Mountains, the Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong. It covers watersheds, dams, management of fishing and the need for protection of natural resources that are vital to many millions of people.

Fish Catch on the Tonle Sap Lake

Fish Catch on the Tonle Sap Lake

Considering the weather and the increasingly worrying situation with the lake right now, this film is timed perfectly. The Mekong has not begun to rise yet and it’s almost July. Normally the Mekong fills during May and by early June it’s already starting to fill the lake. This year the river has not risen since I filmed it in late April and I do wonder if it’s going to effect the fish breeding cycle this season. Everyone I speak to assumes that the rain thats finally arrived is going to fill the many reservoirs up stream. It’s anyones guess when it might start to rise. The trees (Tonle Sap flooded forest) in the above shot should be almost completely underwater by now. What you see above is the normal dry season level.

Locals remove fish form a "Thmor" fish trap

Locals remove fish form a "Thmor" fish trap

An interesting fact, the Tonle Sap produces more fish each year than the entire inland fisheries of the US and Canada combined. It’s a shame the planned flight didn’t happen in the end. Some of these fish traps, known locally as Thmor’s, can run for several kilometers and can only be fully appreciated from the air. Below is only a very small one and as you can see, even in the dry season it produces an enormous amount of fish (this was 2 days worth).

It will be interesting to see how this wet season pans out, I must say the late rains and the failure of the Mekong to rise as normal is very worrying sign of things to come.

I spent the weekend in Kampot on the south coast trying to get the last few shots I needed. It’s my favorite town in Cambodia and is rather sleepy, the riverside has the most fantastic view of the mountains, both in the morning and for sunset. I had to sneak about a bit to get to the dam but I managed to get plenty of shots in the end. It’s a bit of a touchy subject, there was a very sudden flood last year in Kampot and many people believed the dam broke but this was denied at the time. From what I saw the dam was complete but the hydro power part was still being built and they seem to be busy building a second dam just a few hundred meters up stream.

Dam under construction in Southern Cambodia

Dam under construction in Southern Cambodia

The film isn’t especially critical of dams and actually supports most of the developments, which are desperately needed by the country. It’s the dams planned for the Mekong that are most scary. Hopefully the situation with the lake this year will be a wake up call for the powers that be. If the lake fails to fill properly one year it could be catastrophic for the entire region, directly affecting around 3 million people, in Cambodia and Vietnam in particular, who rely on the annual pulse of fish that normally comes at the end of the wet season. The other issue of the film is making sure the Cardamom Mountains are protected properly. This mountain range is Cambodia’s most important watershed and now with hydro power arriving it means protecting the forests will also help make the dams both more effective and increase their lifespans through reduced siltation. It’s hoped that the people in power will understand the need to protect this vital natural resource, which is under increasing threat from industrial concessions and illegal activities.

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About Allan Michaud

English Wildlife Photographer/Environmental Filmmaker based in Cambodia
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