Southeast Asia’s most critical river is entering uncharted waters

National Geographic –

For months now, a single, rare Irrawaddy river dolphin, apparently entangled in a fishing net and disoriented, has been spotted in Southeast Asia’s struggling Mekong River, far from its normal habitat in northern Cambodia. Conservationists are scrambling to come up with a plan to help the critically endangered animal before it’s too late, but time is running out.

Dolphins sometimes play metaphorical roles in Cambodian folklore. This one, astray and fading, could be an analogy for how the Mekong has lost its way. As the fate of the dolphin hangs in the balance, so does the future of the Mekong, with signs growing increasingly stronger that a river sustaining one of the richest ecosystems on Earth is being strangled on a basin-wide scale.

For years people have warned that an environmental crisis looms along the 2,700-mile-long waterway, which runs through six Asian countries. The Mekong could not withstand the onslaught of dam building, overfishing, and sand mining forever, they argued. Yet somehow the river has, so far, powered through, delivering an almost indescribable bounty to the more than 60 million people who depend on it for their livelihoods.

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