The Tropaing Sangke Fishing Community is a small community situated about 6 kilometres to the west of the Kampot city centre. This small community resides on the riverbank in stilted wooden huts and their livelihood mainly relies on what they can source from the Kampot River, including fish, crab, mussels and crayfish. The mangroves in this area are a vital part to the natural ecosystem that surrounds the community, creating a place for the marine creatures to live and breed so that the people of Tropiang Sangke can continue their day to day lives as they have been for the past decades.
Unfortunately at this point in time the Tropaing Sangke way of life has become threatened by the government’s initiative to expand Kampot into a thriving city. Just a few kilometres down the river the mangroves are no more, having been extracted to make way for the construction of buildings, hotels and all the other industrial aspects that big cities bring. In recent years both local and international NGO’s have witnessed the threat to this natural ecosystem and have come here to assist the Tropaing Sangke community to set up a Mangrove conservation area, whereby hundreds of baby mangroves are planted on this side of the river each year to replace the habitat that has been lost for the marine creatures in the area. I was enthused to see one of the projects being assisted by the Australian NGO, Engineers Without Borders, an organisation that creates systemic change through humanitarian engineering.
However the help of NGO’s alone is not enough, the Tropaing Sangke community members are the one’s who live in this environment daily and who do all they can to preserve it. In order to do this they require extra income, for which they have turned to tourism.
The Tropaing Sangke Fishing Community now offers eco tours to its visitors, with all money generated from the tours going towards costs for the preservation of the mangroves. This may include buying mangrove seeds, running expenses and providing the local people with salaries. It is a real eco tourism project set up to provide assistance to both the environment and the local people.
I booked a tour through a business card I was given during a festival at a local stall. The business card had no website, only a phone number, and after a few calls with a language barrier I finally got a hold of the son to the leader of the eco tourism project. I had been made aware that the leader doesn’t in fact speak any English, and relies on his son and other members of the community to act as tour guides for him.
I made my way up to the village to greet the young boy I was chatting with on the phone. Only 15 years old he explained to me that many of the guides that used to work here had now moved on to university and that he was the only English speaking person in the community at this present time. He offered to be my guide for the tour and I was welcomed by the suggestion as my first impressions of the community were fascinating.
Wooden stilted huts covered the mangroves, two Geese waddled along the shore. There were baby mangroves sectioned off with signs dating their planting. You could see that the Engineers Without Borders volunteers had spent some time here working with the local people and assisting them with water projects. Red wooden boats lined the riverside gracefully and there wasn’t much noise around but the sound of water washing up against the shore. It was a peaceful surrounding, a change from the city centre.
Our tour would start at 3pm and consist of a river cruise upstream to visit some of the mangroves, people-watch the night fisherman heading out to sea, the chance to plant a baby mangrove and then some bird watching as the sun set over the river. On the way back we would stop to view the fireflies that came to life at sundown and then head back to shore by 7pm.
The boat ride was relaxing. Rosat, the community leader’s son, and I talked about the conservation of the mangroves and their importance. He told me about the destruction on the other side of the river and his concerns as to how it will affect his village in future. He walked me through the Mangroves on the small man-made wooden paths, explaining to me the different kinds and the important role they play in the ecosystem. We then turned the motor off the boat and quietly sailed into the mangroves to ensure we did not disturb the birds. I was able to get a glimpse of hundreds of birds in the trees, waiting to soar off into the sky before sunset.
Rosat told me that without the mangroves there would be no birds and no life. I was touched that a 15-year-old boy could explain to me the importance of nature and show such care for the environment around him. He explained how one mangrove tree could bring 10 birds; therefore 50 mangrove trees could bring 500 birds. It made my planting a mangrove experience even more meaningful to know how passionate the community is about preserving their land and how something so small could go a long way in helping them to do so.
At sunset we left the mangroves and the boat took me to the other side of the river to see the now baron and deserted land. What a contrast it was and to think that this was once full of mangroves and full of life. In these situations it seems you are always the little fish fighting the big one, but the important thing is that if a thousand little fish work together then you can create change. I imagine all the planted mangroves to be thousands of little fish and I hope that will be enough to ensure that this area can be preserved for many years to come.
We headed back to shore watching the sunset and seeing the fireflies light up the trees. With experiences like these the Tropaing Sangke community should be able to continue their work for many years to come and help to preserve their environment as well as their way of life. You can book a tour through Rosat on +855 069 306 505 or contact the community via their Facebook page.
It will cost you $25 for the afternoon with all money generated going to a good cause.
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