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New hope for Mekong ‘megafish’



Weighing in at 661 kilos, an enormous stingray hooked by a fisherman in Cambodia’s Mekong River earlier this month has taken the title of world’s largest freshwater fish.

Nicknamed “Boramy,” or “full moon” within the Khmer language, the feminine ray — which was launched — raises hope that critically endangered freshwater fish can survive the environmental injury threatening Southeast Asia’s most vital river, Stefan Lovgren reported for Nationwide Geographic.

“It proves these underwater leviathans, which are in critical danger, still exist,” freshwater scientist Zeb Hogan informed Nationwide Geographic.

Hogan launched into a seek for the world’s largest freshwater fish 15 years in the past, when fishers caught a 646-pound catfish within the Mekong. Since then, his “Megafish Mission” has spanned six continents — however monitoring these behemoths is hard. 

“They live in remote, inaccessible places, and often in murky waters,” Lovgren wrote. “Sometimes, even people who have lived their entire lives near megafish habitat have never heard of the creatures, let alone seen them.”

In lots of areas, these giants are dwindling shortly because of overfishing, air pollution and dams that chop rivers up and disrupt fish migration. Globally, freshwater megafish, reminiscent of caimans and big salamanders, have declined by 94 p.c prior to now 50 years, in line with a report, The World’s Forgotten Fishes, produced by a number of environmental teams, together with Conservation Worldwide. Practically a 3rd of all freshwater fish species are threatened by extinction and 80 species of freshwater fish have already been declared extinct — together with 16 in 2020 alone, in line with the report.

A part of the issue is that freshwater ecosystems — and the fish they harbor — have a tendency to slide below the radar. Regardless of their very important contributions to individuals and the planet, rivers, lakes and different freshwater habitats obtain solely a small proportion of the funding devoted to conservation, whereas terrestrial and marine methods are prioritized, mentioned Robin Abell, who leads Conservation Worldwide’s freshwater work

Freshwater ecosystems “have historically been ignored during the development of conservation initiatives, such as protected areas and other management interventions,” Abell mentioned.

“Freshwater and terrestrial conservation need to go hand-in-hand to receive the full suite of benefits that nature can provide,” she added. “It will require robust coverage that acknowledges the connections between terrestrial and freshwater methods and that treats these methods as equal in significance.”

In a recent paper, Conservation International scientists offered tools to strengthen freshwater conservation. They argued that countries and companies should focus on addressing impacts close to home — in specific watersheds and communities — rather than focusing on broad international targets such as those that guide other environmental efforts. 

“Ending the water crisis starts in your back yard,” said Derek Vollmer a freshwater scientist at Conservation International. “Acting locally to address water issues is a far more effective conservation strategy than setting broad global targets, such as those designed to prevent catastrophic global warming.” 

Conservation International is working with partners to replant and protect flooded forests to increase wildlife habitats and improve fisheries’ productivity, and helping local households set up savings groups and start alternative businesses that can compensate for the loss of income from natural events, like droughts or fires.

Experts are optimistic that threatened freshwater ecosystems like the Mekong — and the yet-undiscovered creatures swimming their silty waters — can be pulled back from the brink by improving water quality, letting rivers flow more naturally, protecting and restoring critical habitats, and ending unsustainable practices like overfishing.

“When people see that these animals exist, and begin to appreciate how incredible they are, they get inspired,” Hogan told National Geographic. “I look at the fish that broke the record in 2005, and it was killed and sold for meat. Now we’re tracking the world’s largest freshwater fish. It’s such a contrast. It means that all is not lost.”

Read more here.

Vanessa Bauza is the editorial director at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Akal floating village, Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia (© Conservation International/photo by Tangkor Dong)

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