It’s been more than 40 years since Bula Tawan first cast his fishing net out across the Mekong River when the waterway was rich in marine life.
But the days of big catches have disappeared for most fishermen like Tawan, who once relied on the big hauls to earn a living and feed his family.
“The water and the color have changed because when the water was natural it was not clear like this and it would have sediments and nutrients in there,” explained the lean 66-year-old father, as he scooped up a handful of transparent river water.
“The water is clear, but the sediments and nutrients have gone.”
The Thai government’s view of the matter is somewhat different.
“The water’s change to a blue color has made the tourists more excited for the color and it has gone on social media making it more popular so that more tourists want to visit,” said Tanaporn Sriyamoon from the Thai government’s Planning Policy office.
The timing of the water’s transformation, along with extreme fluctuations in river levels, coincide with the upstream Lao government-owned Xayaburi dam, which began generating hydropower last October.
According to the Xayaburi website, the $3.8 billion dam is “a run of river barrage which will trap substantially less sediment than conventional storage schemes,” but new evidence indicates that major blockages still occur.