Our Tonle Sap

Partners: Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), The Center for People and Forests – RECOFTC, ForumCiv, SHE Investments, Sansom Mlup Prey (SMP), NatureLife Cambodia, Oxfam and the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organisation (CDPO).


The ecosystem has experienced temperature rises, increased forest fires, an alarming 80–90% drop in fish catches since early 2019, and the loss of 2,800 km2 of seasonally flooded habitat to dry-season rice cultivation. But further degradation in the TSBR can be avoided through habitat restoration projects like those that have successfully revived similar ecosystems in Europe. The rapid uptake of mitigation and adaptation measures and improved landscape governance can help build resilience in the TSBR.


To build resilience to rapid environmental change among ecosystems, communities and biodiversity through integrated landscape management of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve, Cambodia.


Established in 1997, Cambodia’s first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve (TSBR) – covers an area of 14,812.6 km2. Its forests and grasslands, which are flooded and drained each year by the Mekong River and tributaries, support Southeast Asia’s largest waterbird colony and over 50 globally threatened species, like the critically endangered Bengal Florican. Home to one of the most productive inland fisheries in the world, the TSBR sustains more than 1.5 million people living in the floodplain or in floating houses on the lake, including more than 100,000 people for whom fishing is their only source of income. Yet climate change, construction of dams for hydropower, and diversion of tributaries for rice irrigation are triggering forest fires and threatening the collapse of fish stocks – and the lake ecosystem itself.


This project aims to address these challenges by implementing integrated landscape management, which will directly address the impacts of the above-mentioned drivers of degradation through improved management, reduced fire incidence, replanting of flooded forests and the development of ecologically resilient livelihoods in the TSBR. Where possible, the project will also address drivers of change through improved governance and policy.

Specific actions

Activities will focus on landscape planning and management, fire prevention measures, rehabilitation of vegetation, and sustainable agriculture and forest management. Specific approaches include: participatory consultation with communities and government to develop a community-based fire prevention and management plan; ecological engineering (e.g., dykes, ponds) to retain water in areas critical for fish eggs and nesting waterbirds; work with the private sector to create incentives for more sustainable agriculture; work with women entrepreneurs to develop alternative livelihoods to fishing; and tools such as a fire-warning app and a web portal to assess the impact of proposed developments on habitat.


HOU Hemmunind, Communications Officer,