SCIENCE MAGAZINE - BIODIVERSITY
Edited by Jeffrey Brainard
In a victory for conservation, the Cambodian government announced on 18 March that it is suspending for 10 years plans to build two hydropower dams on the Mekong River. The move helps preserve a freshwater ecosystem that, after the Amazon, is the world’s most biologically diverse. It also supports a vast fishing industry. Cambodia now relies on hydropower for nearly 50% of its electricity, but will turn to coal, natural gas, and solar energy to meet its future power needs. The Mekong begins on the Tibetan Plateau and flows through several countries, including Cambodia and Vietnam, before emptying into the South China Sea. It has been under increasing pressure from development, pollution, and climate change; drought and upstream dams in China have exacerbated recent low water levels in the lower Mekong. Adding to the river system’s woes, Laos opened two hydropower dams on the Mekong’s main branch in the past 6 months, and Cambodia said it may yet build dams on Mekong tributaries. Still, conservationists praised Cambodia’s decision. Maintaining the free flow of the lower Mekong is “the best decision for both people and nature,” Teak Seng, Cambodia country director for the World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement.