Laos dam threatens survival of Mekong dolphins in Cambodia, WWF warns

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on Thursday warned that a dam Laos is planning to build across the Mekong River could threaten the existence of critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in downstream Cambodia, Xinhua news agency reported.

The government’s decision to build the Don Sahong hydropower project in southern Laos located about 1 km upstream of the core habitat for Mekong dolphins, could precipitate the extinction of species from the Mekong River, the WWF said in a statement.

According to WWF, builders of the dam intend to excavate millions of tonnes of rock by using explosives that may create strong sound waves that could potentially kill dolphins which have highly sensitive hearing structures.

“Plans to construct the Don Sahong dam in a channel immediately upstream from these dolphins will likely hasten their disappearance from the Mekong,” said Chhith Sam Ath, WWF-Cambodia’s country director.

“The dam’s impact on the dolphins probably cannot be mitigated, and certainly not through the limited and vague plans outlined in the project’s environmental impact assessment,” he said.

The WWF urged Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to call for a moratorium on the dam during the Mekong River Commission’s Heads of State Summit in April.

Freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins are critically endangered in the Mekong River, where their numbers have dwindled to around 85 individuals restricted to a 190 km stretch of the Mekong River mainstream between southern Laos and northeast Cambodia.

However, the Cambodian government estimated that the total population of Mekong river dolphins in the area is between 155 and 175 heads.

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