A shirtless fisherman wearing a ball cap holds up a fishing net and pulls out tiny silver fish caught in the Tonle Sap Lake in Siem Reap Province in December 2017. Roun Ry

To Save a Dying Lake, Mekong Nations Must Act as One

On Cambodia’s Tonle Sap, something has gone terribly wrong. Government-installed gauges are recording staggeringly low water levels on the lake and its eponymous river. Satellite maps show the forests surrounding the lake vanishing. Scientists and researchers across the globe have amassed reams of data pinpointing countless problems threatening Southeast Asia’s largest body of freshwater. People living on the lake, meanwhile, have come to simpler conclusions: there are far less fish, crops are failing, and nothing is working as it should. 

Mok Hien has fished the lake for most of his life. Though he doesn’t know his exact age—he guesses around 70—he does know how many nets and how many hours it should take to pull in a decent haul. In recent years, however, those numbers began to rise drastically.  

“I start at 6 a.m., laying out nets, and leave them until midnight or 1 a.m. It’s getting harder every day to live as a fisherman. There’s not enough fish to catch, not even for home cooking.”

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