CI Photojournal: Cambodia

Young boy fishing at sunset on Tonle Sap Lake. (© Kristin Harrison & Jeremy Ginsberg)

Last September, newlywed photographers Kristin Harrison and Jeremy Ginsberg left their home in San Francisco to travel around the world. During their travels, they are donating their photography services to international nonprofits with missions they are passionate about. In Southeast Asia, they teamed up with Conservation International (CI) to document three ongoing projects in Cambodia. Here are a few of their favorite photos and reflections on their time with CI.

Tonle Sap Lake

The largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, Cambodia’s Tonle Sap — the “Great Lake” — doubles in size with the monsoon rains each year. As the lake floods, huge schools of fish thrive, providing food for millions of Cambodians. To maximize the fishing opportunities, some families live in floating villages composed of rustic, often handmade houseboats — miles from the vast lake’s shores.

Anlung Reang floating village on Tonle Sap Lake. (© Kristin Harrison & Jeremy Ginsberg)

We spent two days visiting CI’s research station, located in a floating village of a few dozen families. Traveling by longboat, we photographed fishermen, toured communities and tagged along with local researchers as they collected data on the behaviors of Endangered river otters. At night we slept in the open air meeting room of the station, where we watched the sun rise over the still, quiet lake — serene and beautiful.

Male northern buff-cheeked gibbon in Cambodia. (© Kristin Harrison & Jeremy Ginsberg)

Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area

Found in the jungles of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and southern China, northern buff-cheeked gibbons (Nomascus annamensis) face increasing threats from humans, including loss of habitat due to extensive deforestation. There are few left in the world, and CI is working hard to protect them. In the Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area in northeastern Cambodia, we joined CI researchers on their pre-dawn trek into the forest, where we heard a northern buffed-cheek gibbon duet — eerie and mournful. We spent a morning following five of these graceful apes, which for us was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Researchers Santiago Cassalett and Jackson Frechette analyzing fruit seed dispersal in Veun Sai Conservation Area, Cambodia. (© Kristin Harrison & Jeremy Ginsberg)

In Cambodia, the annual Water Festival celebrates the end of rainy season and the directional reversal of the water flow of Tonle Sap, which creates an abundance of fish and fertile soil. We enjoyed seeing part of the celebration in Banlung, the nearest town to CI’s Veun Sai station. After dark, hundreds of locals gathered to light homemade lanterns and float them onto Boeung Kan Siang Lake for good luck.

Water festival celebration in Banlung, Cambodia. (© Kristin Harrison & Jeremy Ginsberg)

Mekong Turtle Conservation Center

Near Kratie, CI works with communities to protect the endangered Cantor’s giant softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii).

Releasing young Cantor's giant softshell turtles with local residents, monks and CI staff along the Mekong River in Cambodia. (© Kristin Harrison & Jeremy Ginsberg)

Young turtles are allowed to grow safely in CI’s newly-built Mekong Turtle Conservation Center, located on the grounds of Wat Sorsor Mouy Roy, a famous Buddhist temple. The temple’s monks work at the center and educate the community, as Buddhist philosophy encourages environmental conservation.

Softshell turtles are bizarre looking, and we enjoyed spending a day photographing them. Their shells are wafer thin around the edges, and soft on the top and bottom. Adults can grow to 6 feet [1.8 meters] in diameter, weigh up to 110 pounds (50 kilograms) and have a ferocious, bone-crushing bite.

Local boy holding a young Cantor's giant softshell turtle, Mekong Turtle Conservation Center, Cambodia. (© Kristin Harrison & Jeremy Ginsberg)

We joined CI staff, monks and villagers on the banks of the Mekong River to learn how turtles are released back into the wild. The turtles fascinated the local children, who were as excited to hold them and help return them to the wild as we were!

See more photos from Kristin and Jeremy’s global adventures on their blog.


  1. Anne says

    Thank you to all for Saving the Water Turtles; they have been around for so many millions of years; good to see they are being protected;
    Mankind must search for Fruit and Vegetables for his sustinance…Amen!

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