4.1. Perceptions of Environmental Change
Villagers observed three broad categories of environmental change, including species loss or decline, irregularity of tides and shifting weather patterns. The intensity of the observation was linked with the geography of a particular village. For example, species loss was commented on more often in mangrove-estuary fishing villages compared with coastal villages that also had access to farmland. In contrast, mangrove-estuary villages spoke less about flooding than in more exposed coastal areas that were less buffered by mangrove trees. Table 2
compiles this information, highlighting observed changes within all five villages, explaining why people believe this change is happening, the perceived impacts of an observed change, and any local responses.
Local perceptions of environmental change.
Local perceptions of environmental change.
|Irregularity of tides||Tides are harder to predict, and the duration of tides has shifted (from two to four or five hours).||Crab fishers can no longer lay their traps during low tide, when crabs are attracted to bait, and be ensured the traps will soon be submerged.||Some fishers monitor traps more consistently. Measuring peak floods since 2004, it is believed that there has been a rise of 0.1 meter since then.|
|Shift in weather patterns||A perceived rise in temperature and change in seasons; heavier rains and increasing storms and floods.||Storms affect access to fishing grounds; intense heat affects sea grass; beaches are eroding and mangrove stands are being damaged.||Keep notes of houses destroyed by floods; considering a change in house design.|
|Species decline||Some aquatic species have become rare in the past few years, as pressure on aquatic resources have intensified.||People need to fish; “harder” to survive.||Tried many activities: patrolling, protesting against sand mining and trawls; but general declines continue.|
Fishers argued that tides are irregular and harder to predict than in the past. Crab fishers can no longer set their crab traps at low tide and assume that they will be submerged (sometimes tides creep up so quickly that crab traps are covered in water before the crabs can enter, and at other times, the traps remain un-submerged). As a consequence, fishers need to monitor their traps more carefully, either fishing closer to home with the consequence of having less overall catch or spending greater time away from home and sleeping on their fishing boats (in this scenario, people report catching more crabs, since fewer people are fishing for crabs further away from the villages). This forced behavior change is not something fishers are happy about. As one crab fisher comments, “I am old now and do crab fishing because I want to fish near the village. I want to sleep at home, not on the fishing boat. If the changes continue, the lives of fishers will be harder and harder, and fishing activities will disappear one day.”
Floods and storms have always been present in this area, particularly in the rainy season. For example, in 1998, one fisher explained that he was “…afraid to go fishing very far from home in the rainy season. The waves are big, the wind is strong and the storms are terrible” [50
]. However, fishers perceive that the intensity and frequency of storms is shifting. People talk about storms damaging their homes or, in a few instances, mangrove trees. With such intense storms come floods. Measurements by one village chief suggest that the level of flooding has increased by one decimeter (39.37 inches) since 2004. In another village, it was noted that more homes were destroyed in 2011 than were destroyed in 2010 by flooding (30 homes as of September, 2011, as compared with 10 homes throughout 2010). There has been no specific meteorological data collected for coastal Cambodia, and while general scientific data suggests that precipitation and heavy rains have been consistent throughout Cambodia since 1960 [51
], it may be that the timing or intensity of flooding is changing, that general trends for inland Cambodia do not hold true in Cambodia’s coastal area or that climate change is the lens through which people explain livelihood challenges. Regardless, flooding and storm frequency in coastal areas requires careful monitoring.
Fishers also comment on an overall rise in temperature, something that farmers have observed in other parts of Cambodia [46
]. This observation is confirmed by long-term scientific monitoring: the mean annual temperature for Cambodia has increased by 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1960 [51
]. Intensifying hot seasons can have multiple impacts upon fisheries. As one interviewee noted, “the weather patterns are changing. I no longer can follow the water patterns to find krill. It is sometimes too hot, and the rainy season is shifting so that I can no longer use my traditional knowledge”. Shifting temperatures impact fishing options, particularly for those fishing in shallow-water areas, whereby the hot sun easily penetrates the waters’ surface, or for those practicing some form of small-scale fish grow out, whereby prolonged heat waves can kill an entire fish crop.
Changes in species composition and quantity are complicated to understand, since fisheries tend to fluctuate, there is no baseline data for coastal Cambodia and fishery management has been poor [52
]. Fishers have talked about species loss for over a decade. For example, in interviews from fifteen years earlier (1998) that took place in several of the study villages, fishers noted several species that had become rare (i.e.
, Parastromateus niger
or Istiophorus platypterus
) and also commented on changes in consumer tastes (i.e.
, people now eat frog fish, Antennarius
]. In contrast, fishers in 2012 spoke extensively about species size, since it is now hard to find large grouper fish (Epinephelus tauvina
, Epinephelus awoara
) on a consistent basis and crabs (Callinectes
) are smaller than in the past. Rather than targeting large groupers in deeper waters, fishers now target red fish (Lutjanus
) and blue crabs (P. pelagicus
) in deeper waters. In the mangrove-estuary areas, Marschke and Berkes [53
] already warned of a collapse in crab species, due to the number of pre-reproductive species being caught in the early 2000s; a complete collapse does not appear to have happened, and over-fishing has been seen as an issue for over a decade. Overall, fishery decline is attributed to the use of certain types of fishing gear (large trawls, circle nets) and the impacts of large-scale sand extraction taking place in this area since 2008. At the same time, our interviewees admitted that they respond to fishery declines by increasing their own fishing effort and decreasing the mesh size on their traps or gill nets. Another coping strategy appears to be migration, both for individual household members and for entire households [20
Another crab fisher nicely sums up the challenges fishers face in this area:
Since starting to fish, in 1992, I have had to continuously increase the number of nets that I use while decreasing my mesh size. There are some seasons that are better than other seasons, but in general, we all have to work harder than we did in the past. Now that it is hotter than before does not help. The future of a fisher is not good. Some fishers may be forced to do something like moving out of the village to an area where they can pursue agriculture and animal raising.
Environmental change is experienced in coastal villages in complex ways, and it is unclear how much can be attributed to shifts in climate patterns, over-fishing and general fluctuations. At this point, over-fishing may be the most critical issue, although climate projections certainly suggest that coastal areas will face real impacts from climate variation (sea level rise, loss of certain species). Fishers acknowledge that fishing has never been an easy livelihood and that general stock declines continue to have a direct impact on their livelihood (fishers have to fish harder to make a living). Add in climate variation, where a lot of uncertainty lies, since it is unclear how this will play out, and smaller scale fishing livelihoods become even more complicated.
4.2. Local Institutions Responding to Environmental Change
In response to such challenges, local institutions in Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary, often with donor backing, have been working to address environmental change issues since the 1990s (see Table 3
). This led to the replanting of over 850 ha of mangroves since 2000, with satellite imagery showing that an additional 7000 ha of mangroves cut in the 1990s had experienced some form of natural re-growth by 2007. Mangrove replanting and forest protection has resulted in a perceived increase of one crab species in the area (the mangrove mud crab), ensured a buffer for wind, storms and, to a lesser extent, floods in some villages and created a general appreciation for mangrove conservation [20
]. As one villager noted, “It is well known to others that we protect our mangroves. This is a common property area that is protected. Sure, some people try to come to cut the mangroves, but this happens in very few places”. Other activities, such as the creation of artificial reefs [54
], have provided habitat for aquatic species, while limiting trawls in shallow-water bay areas. From a communication perspective, the creation of a fishery federation enabled village committees to work as a larger unit in terms of protesting over-fishing and the impacts of sand mining activities at a provincial and a national level. Finally, ecotourism work is seen as a successful blend of entrepreneurship and of mangrove protection, particularly in one village, where they have built over 600 meters of pathways through the mangroves and a 17-meter observation tower. In sum, this is a group of villages with local institutions that have a significant, longer-term experience in thinking about environmental issues, linking this to their livelihood challenges and being realistic about what might be sustainable in terms of development projects. See Table 3
Local institutions, key activities and leadership characteristics.
Local institutions, key activities and leadership characteristics.
|Village||Donor funds a||Key activities, 2000–2012||Brief explanation of leadership within committee|
|A||Yes||Mangrove re-planting; waste management; patrolling; fish sanctuary; skill development (hair dressing, engine and radio repair); lead committee in fishery federation, women’s savings group.||Strong leadership b; long-term support from outside projects (since 1997); high-level provincial connections.|
|B||Yes||Committee elected in 2011; rules and regulations are new.||Committee chief appears committed, but not active yet. |
|C||Yes||Environmental education; integrated farming systems; skill development (hair dressing, engine and radio repair); some mangrove replanting; artificial reefs.||Weak leadership (committee head not respected by villagers); fishing challenges are extra complicated due to geography.|
|D||Yes||Patrolling; integrated farming system; skill development (hair dressing, engine and radio repair); eco-tourism, including fishing platforms for tourists.||Active, well-organized leader; support of provincial departments, linked to proximity (a quick boat ride from town).|
|E||Yes||Eco-tourism (since the mid-2000s); fish and sea grass sanctuary; integrated farming system; skill development (hair dressing, engine and radio repair); installment of drinking water system; some patrolling; some mangrove replanting.||Active, respected politically-connected leader; long-term support from outside projects (since 1997); the commune chief is also the committee chief.|
As Table 3
indicates, local institutions have been involved in a range of activities related to resource management, environmental change and livelihoods, some which are more successful than others. Success is linked to local leadership [55
], donor support [20
], the choice of activity and broader political-economy issues (how external factors influence this area). For example, when local leaders are active and politically connected, they have a greater chance of finding a series of activities that will work and can handle setbacks if a particular activity fails. At the same time, protection projects (fish and sea grass sanctuaries, mangrove replanting) and ecotourism projects (creating picnic platforms in the mangroves, taking tourists to fish in and around a green mussel culture) are regarded as the most successful kinds of environmental projects. Protection activities help buffer against species decline and loss; ecotourism is a money-making enterprise, which enables villagers to benefit from their resource-protection work, and can generate funds for local institutions to sustain their activities once project money has dried up.
This said, local institutions need far greater support in handling environmental change issues and for supporting their livelihoods in general. Combatting sea level rise will likely take some form of infrastructure development or support to build homes in different ways; responding to changing weather patterns will require fishers, local institutions and scientists to take the time to meet together to consider realistic options; finally, species decline and loss requires sustained patrols and adherence to national and regional policies. While several local institutions have attempted to organize systematic fishery patrols to monitor for illegal activities, they have had little support from local police or provincial institutions, making it difficult to sustain. Policy exists for local institutions to take an active role in patrolling, yet policy uptake remains weak at provincial and district levels [56
]. Sand mining, which is believed to greatly affect fish stocks, has also proven to be a contentious issue. Global Witness [57
] highlights the prevalence of sand dredging. By 2010, there were an estimated 27 dredging sites in this area. Fishers suspect that sand mining is linked to the rapid disappearance of the swimming crab species. The fishery federation protested at the provincial level and sent thumb-printed petitions to several national institutions, all to no avail. The owner of the sand mining operation was allegedly connected to those in the highest levels of government; no one could touch this issue, even though local fishing livelihoods were being significantly impacted [20
]. In 2012, sand mining operations had begun to move away from this area, although other fishing villages are now likely facing similar challenges.
Linking environmental change work with income generation projects generally remains challenging for local institutions (with the exception of ecotourism, which requires closer examination) and the NGOs working on such projects. While local committees and NGO teams have worked together to introduce a series of training activities, many are not sustained past the life of a project. For example, one women’s savings group fell apart when the group leader ran away with all the funds. Villagers are now hesitant to create another savings group. Some youth had the chance to be trained in engine repair, with the idea that they could then service boats in the villages. To our knowledge, these youth now use these skills to repair their own boats, but none opened a village repair shop (villagers go to the provincial town for this service). Good ideas do not necessarily translate into workable solutions, particularly in more isolated coastal fishing villages. To be fair, it is not easy to find solutions to the environmental and socio-economic challenges facing coastal villagers.
Local institutions acknowledge that bigger political economy issues are not something that they can easily touch and have become disappointed when funders, government officials and organizations they are working with cannot help to address such issues. As one committee member noted, “often, outsiders come in and tell us what to do. We often listen, since they sometimes know more than us, but it is hard when we ask for support on issues that we cannot solve, and they say that they cannot help us”. In recent years, villagers have begun to voice that they often do far more work than government institutions or NGOs and that it is not always worth their while to be involved in such efforts. The head of another resource management institution noted, “When we list the things we most need help with, they [donor representatives] say they understand, but that they also have to answer to higher people and that only certain types of projects will get funded. Since we live in a protected area, it is always environmental projects, but we have found these do not always help us to earn money, and we do need to survive”. This quote speaks to a very real challenge: people need to make a livelihood from their environment, and a mix of development and resource management projects are required to sustain people.
The history of aid projects in this area is important to recognize, particularly with the emerging shift towards climate change adaptation projects and with a potentially new set of donors coming into this area to fund projects within an adaptation lens. Not all projects are successful or realistic at a local level. Village institutions have significant local memory and can help shape realistic interventions and can point out sustainability challenges that require uptake far beyond the village level.