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Trial by Fire in the Tonle Sap, Cambodia

The Great Lake Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, and contains an exceptional variety of interconnected eco-regions and biodiversity.

Project Details

The University of Adelaide is collaborating in a project with Conservation International to investigate fire risk mitigation strategies through the construction of fire breaks. The project welcomes Marina Spindel from the International Master in Applied Ecology (IMAE) program at the University de Poitiers, France, to head the 6 month project.

Funded by the Toyota Environmental Activities Grant program the project team embarked on a field assessment trip to Cambodia late April, 2019 to gather information, build relationships and consult with local communities and governments on effective fire management techniques. The outputs from this research project will feed into Conservation Internationals planning for protection of their revegetation program.

Project Goal

Recommend measures that aid fire risk mitigation for established and upcoming revegetation sites implemented by Conservation International.

The burnt landscape on the Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia. 
Image credit: Dong Tangkor


In the past few years, fire has become an increasing risk for the region of Tonle Sap, Cambodia. Natural and anthropogenic fires have been getting out of control due to severe droughts. An El Niño event in 2016 exacerbated devastating fires between the months of March and June that reached one third, nearly 250,000 hectares, of the flooded forests. These fires are expected to be due to the burning of areas to convert to farmland or accidental fires when left unattended.

Other than the major environmental impacts, these fires have great repercussions on the livelihood of the local people. The flooded forests are breeding grounds for the freshwater fish. A loss of the forest means a decrease in Tonle Sap’s fish population, the main source of income to the surrounding communities.

Conservation International and partner organisations are revegetating lost areas of forest. An important concern to try mitigate the risk and damage of future fires in these and previous replanting sites.

Revegetation growth a year after planting in a burnt area of the Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia. 
Image credit: Nick Souter, Conservation International

Research about fire management in this area is very scarce. Studies about fire management in flooded forests in general are quite limited. Fire management in the Tonle Sap faces many other constraints. There are very few firefighting resources available, people do not have the proper training and the local authorities do not have the resources to provide proper assistance. For the local communities, training and firefighting tools are lacking.

The Trial by Fire team will build relationships with communities and governments to discuss responsible fire management techniques in the Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia. 
Image credit: Ramesh Raja Segaran

Any recommended actions to mitigate fire risk should be sensitive to existing limitations and to the local context and customs. To plan fire risk mitigation measures it is necessary to take into account the characteristics of the area. In this case, access is restricted due to very dense vegetation and the clear-cutting of vegetation is not permitted. The project will take place in the region of Akol village.

If you would like further information on this project please contact the Centre.

Learn More about the Tonle Sap Lake

Centre for Applied Conservation Science

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