New Aquatic Nature Reserve Protects Critically Endangered River Dolphins in Borneo

Rainforest Trust –

The Irrawaddy Dolphin is technically an oceanic species, living along the coasts of Asia. But the dolphins also live in three river systems — the Mekong, the Irrawaddy and the Mahakam. And these freshwater populations are under greater threat than the oceanic populations. While the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the global Irrawaddy Dolphin population as “Endangered,” all three riverine subpopulations are “Critically Endangered.”

One of these, in the Mahakam River of Indonesian Borneo, is now home to only about 80 individual dolphins. Over the past few decades, habitat loss and unsustainable fishing have reduced the local population to near-extinction. That’s why Rainforest Trust began working with the local organization Yayasan Konservasi – Rare Aquatic Species of Indonesia (YK-RASI). Together, they planned to protect habitat in and along the Mahakam River to save this imperiled group of dolphins.

This month, the 106,544-acre Aquatic Nature Reserve of Pesut Habitat, the first of two planned protected areas, has come to fruition. This reserve covers a 58-mile stretch of the Mahakam river home to between 80% and 100% of the Mahakam River dolphin population. But this area has also been prone to fishing techniques such as gillnetting, which can entangle and drown dolphins. In the span of a decade, at least 32 dolphins in the Mahakam died from being trapped in gill nets. Trawling and fishing with electricity or poison have also been detrimental to these dolphins and other riverine species.

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