Renowned divers explore deepest Mekong basins in key wildlife survey

The group of underwater explorers dived about 75m below the surface of the Mekong River in Cambodia. Wonder of the Mekong

A group of well-known underwater explorers dived to a depth of around 75m below the surface of Cambodia’s Mekong, a major body of water that is the last habitat of the world’s largest freshwater fish.

The deepest-ever exploration mission to the Mekong is an international effort led by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of the Wonders of the Mekong project, which began April 23 and ended completed April 27.

“We are exploring deep into the Mekong, another world – a realm within a hidden realm, a black-as-black space inhabited by rare and unusual fish like the giant Mekong stingray and giant catfish,” said Zeb Hogan. , fish biologist and leader of the USAID-funded project.

The area the scientists will focus on is located just downstream from a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. The region is dominated by flooded forests, rocky outcrops, sandbars, braided channels, plunge pools, rapids and sills. This area is also home to many of the Mekong’s more than 1,000 species of fish, including the odd two-faced carp, giant catfish, and striped catfish, once a staple food in Cambodia.

Researchers believe these areas are critically important as refuges for dry-season fish and important spawning grounds, and possibly as the last habitat for several endangered giant fish. It is an area recognized as special and protected by local communities.

To investigate these important areas, Hogan – and co-project leader Sudeep Chandra – teamed up with biologists from the Faculty of Fisheries at the Royal University of Agriculture; deep-sea researcher Kakani Katija and her team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute; and Kenny Broad, a University of Miami professor, environmental scientist, cave diver and 2011 National Geographic Explorer of the Year. They are all specialists in the exploration and study of extreme underwater habitats. .

In a press release seen by The Post on April 29, Hogan said, “The biggest challenge will be getting down to the bottom. Its deepest areas are below sea level. In addition to being dark and quiet, the waters could be obscured by particles.

For their exploration, the team used unmanned submersibles fitted with lights and cameras, cameras suspended from long cables, and baited video cameras as eyes and ears. To assess the alien environment, equipment that measures depth and flow and maps the river bottom and currents has been deployed.

The team’s base camp is adjacent to one of the deepest pools in the Cambodian Mekong and a fish sanctuary designed to protect spawning fish. The area itself is dotted with islands occupied by small fishing camps, nomadic fishermen who move from island to island, from season to season. Upstream, across the border in Laos, are Khone Falls, the only waterfall in the main Mekong channel.

Hogan said these deep pools could even be used as introduction sites for endangered fish, similar to what the Wonders of the Mekong team did last month in Tonle Sap Lake.

Chea Seila, Wonders of the Mekong Program Manager, said in the press release: “This is one of many Wonders of the Mekong projects that aims to protect a healthy and connected river, as well as people, fisheries , wildlife and the quality of the water that the river supports.

Chhut Chheana, communications coordinator for USAID Wonders of the Mekong, told the Post on May 1, “Exploration was conducted in the Mekong Ramsar Zone, which stretches from the provincial town of Stung Treng to the border of Laos.

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