Lee, D., Eschenroeder, J.C., Baumgartner, L.J., Chan, B., Chandra, S., Chea, S., Chea, S., Chhut, C., Everest, E., Hom, R., Heng, K., Lovgren, S., Ounboundisane, S., Robinson, W., Seat, L., Soth, S., Hogan, Z.S.

Publication Date

20 May 2023

Publication Name


Monday June 19, 2023

The Mekong River is one of the most biodiverse, productive rivers in the world, supporting more than 1000 fish species and the livelihoods of tens of millions of people. The spatial dynamics and population status of many Mekong fish species, especially megafishes, are poorly understood. Therefore, this information is rarely incorporated into environmental risk assessments for large infrastructure projects, such as mainstream hydropower developments, which have been accelerating rapidly in the Mekong Basin. In this study, we present initial findings from the ongoing, collaborative, transnational acoustic telemetry monitoring of nearly 300 tagged fishes representing 27 species, which yield important insights into the potential impacts that proposed hydropower dams would have on populations of ecologically and economically important fish species. Included in these data are more than ten months of hydrophone records tracking the location of a 300 kg giant freshwater stingray, Urogymnus polylepis (Bleeker, 1852), currently the world’s largest known freshwater fish, used to detect its migration behavior and distribution patterns. The telemetry data, combined with fisher surveys used to gather local ecological knowledge, provide evidence that the proposed dams would fragment the existing populations of this iconic species as well as those of other fish species that support river food web balance and local food systems. Furthermore, the existence of giant freshwater stringray populations and other unique megafauna reinforces the universal natural heritage value of the stretch of the Mekong River between the Lao People’s Democratic Republic/Cambodia border and the city of Kratie. This stretch of river is located between two proposed megadams, the 900 MW Stung Treng Dam and the 2300 MW Sambor Dam. However, the Cambodian Ministry of Environment has also proposed this area for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Biosphere Reserve). The documentation of the movement of migratory fishes through this reach of the river using acoustic telemetry, the surprising discovery of the world’s largest freshwater fish, the potential threat posed by dam construction, and the management ramifications of UNESCO World Heritage Site designation underscore the importance of scientific research and community involvement in landscape-scale development decisions. The decisions made today will affect the fate of this global biodiversity hotspot, the world’s most productive inland fisheries, and the livelihoods of millions of people throughout the Lower Mekong Basin.

Link copied successfully