The river of plenty: uncovering the secrets of the amazing Mekong

Fisherman navigating the river in Lao PDR. Photo courtesy of FISHBIO.

Home to giant catfish and stingrays, feeding over 60 million people, and with the largest abundance of freshwater fish in the world, the Mekong River, and its numerous tributaries, brings food, culture, and life to much of Southeast Asia. Despite this, little is known about the biodiversity and ecosystems of the Mekong.

“Researchers estimate there could be over 1,200 species. As a comparison, the whole state of California has about 67 freshwater fishes,” Harmony Patricio, a conservation biologist and the conservation director at FISHBIO, told in a recent interview.

A new program by FISHBIO, headed by Patricio, is working to document the freshwater fish in the Mekong, called the Mekong Fish Network.

“The main goal of the Mekong Fish Network is to help people…collaborate and share information,” she says. “These fish migrate between six different countries: China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. These countries all speak different languages and have different cultures and governments.” But, she points out, fish don’t care about borders.

“It’s quite frustrating that there is a lot of money being poured into development in the Mekong, but it’s hard to get that same level of commitment for environmental conservation.” Patricio asks, adding that it’s time the international community comes to see the Mekong as one of our most important ecosystems.

“The world needs to realize that the Mekong [is] a global resource of incredible diversity and productivity.”

Tiny pufferfish (left) in hand. Photo courtesy of FISHBIO.

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