CI marine biologist Les Kaufman spends most of his trips to the “field” near, on or in the ocean. But this week in Cambodia’s Tonle Sap region, he’s in for something different. Les is part of a team studying the interactions between one of the world’s largest freshwater fisheries and the people who depend on it.
As our plane zoomed in over the lake, we could see the vast lake floor spreading from horizon to horizon. At the moment, the lake’s low water levels were settled into the deepest fifth of the land it occupies during flood season. The waters were dotted by stilted and floating villages; vast rice systems ringing the lake stretched from its floodplains to year-round terra firma.
The monsoons are just beginning anew, so the afternoon sky is bedecked with big boomers (thunderheads) all about. Tonle Sap — the Great Lake — is a monstrous engine of rice and fish, diversity and life. CI is here, working with our Cambodian partners, to stem the disappearance of this world.
Blighted by poverty, corruption, climate change and dams, yet buoyed by tradition and deep national pride, Tonle Sap — the largest lake in Southeast Asia — has been aptly called the beating heart of Cambodia. We want to see it keep on beating.