Science for a Sustainable Mekong River System

Mekong Science Data Workshop Group PhotoWhat scientific information can government officials and others use to validate, identify, and prioritize needed scientific studies in the Mekong River Basin  related to sustainable river resources and ecosystems? That was the focus of the recent Mekong River System Science Data Workshop: Science for a Sustainable Mekong River System, held in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, from 16-18 September 2014. The workshop was hosted by the Vietnam Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and a number of other local and international institutions.

Two fisheries-themed talks were given by staff from FISHBIO. Doug Demko, FISHBIO’s President, gave a talk on the importance of fisheries research and monitoring to properly plan for hydropower and irrigation development, and reduce potential environmental impacts. His talk stressed that appropriate planning is key to effectively developing and utilizing water resources, and this includes incorporating science at all stages of development. From pre-project research to ongoing monitoring throughout the operation of water infrastructure, gathering fisheries and environmental data allows managers to make informed decisions and actions on a real-time basis. His talk is available to view below.

Sinsamout Ounboundisane, who manages our Lao PDR office, gave a talk on the roles Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) can play in collecting data in the Mekong Basin.  Many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are actively gathering biological, environmental, and social data in the Mekong Basin, but do not always have the capacity or resources to effectively manage, analyze, and share these data. Collaborations with NGOs can strengthen government and academic research, and fill in data gaps. However, many regional organizations and institutions often face a number of challenges, such as the lack of personnel and staff time to analyze collected data; loss of data or institutional knowledge with staff turnover; and a lack of outlets for disseminating the results of their data collection. This talk presented the Mekong Fish Network as a resource that strives to address some of these challenges by building the capacity of all types Mekong Basin institutions to conduct research, and by providing an online platform to share research findings and communicate with other researchers. The talk is available to view below.

The workshop was well attended by researchers from Southeast Asia as well as from around the world. A central point of discussion was the challenge of identifying which data are most needed to effectively manage Mekong water, environmental, and fishery resources, as well as how to share and analyze those data in a timely manner for planning and management purposes. There are many challenges in the Mekong similar to issues water and fisheries resource managers faced in the United States several decades ago. Workshops and planning efforts such as this will help ensure that experiences can be shared across countries, and science can play a larger role in development decisions that ultimately affect the river, the fish, and the people of the Mekong Basin.