Cambodia | NGO hopes to establish MPA in archipelago devastated by seabed trawling
KEP ARCHIPELAGO, Cambodia – It’s not long before midnight and an outlaw trawler has been spotted. The captain — a weather-gnarled old fisherman wearing just boxer shorts — winces as flashlights illuminate his face. He takes a drag of a cigarette and grins as his crew hauls in their catch. “Here he is with all the seagrass in his net,” says Paul Ferber, the founder and head of Marine Conservation Cambodia (MCC), as his boat pulls alongside the trawler to take video evidence during a patrol for illegal fishing. “Same guy. He just doesn’t care.”
For nine years, the NGO MCC has been documenting the decline of marine ecosystems off the southern coast of Cambodia, where fish stocks have plummeted as once-thriving habitats are reduced to a sludgy underwater wasteland. The main perpetrators of the destruction are fleets of trawlers that drag weighted, electrified nets through the shallow waters here almost every night. Their main target is shrimp but their methods are indiscriminate. Like a bulldozer through forest, they cut swathes of life out of the sea and scars into the ocean floor. Sunken a few inches into the seabed, the nets churn up and electrocute everything in their path, including the seagrass meadows that once sprawled the bay.