Critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins and the world’s most productive freshwater fishery saved from destructive dam

Lower Mekong river to remain free flowing as Sambor dam plans abandoned

Aerial river Cambodia (Kampuchea)

In a significant step forward for nature and communities that depend on the mighty Mekong River, the Cambodian government has abandoned plans to build the Sambor hydropower dam and has put a 10-year moratorium on any new dams on the Mekong mainstem.

The Mekong River, flowing from the Tibetan Plateau through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam to the South China Sea, is home to spectacular biodiversity. Roughly 60 million people live in the region, many in poverty, and depend on the river and its tributaries for food and income.

Irawaddy Dolphin

The construction of the Sambor Dam would have threatened the world's most productive freshwater fishery which feeds millions of people and would have blocked the movement of vital sediment—speeding up the sinking and shrinking of the Mekong delta—threatening the future of Vietnam's major rice basket, countless fishing communities, and long-term economic sustainability.

The news of the abandonment of the dam is also good for the survival of the critically endangered Irrawaddy river dolphins whose highest population is recorded in the area. The protection of the Irrawaddy dolphin is crucial for the overall health of the Mekong River—which is also home to an estimated 1,100 species of fish. The Irrawaddy dolphin is also regarded as a sacred animal by both Khmer and Lao people and is an important source of income and jobs for communities involved in dolphin-watching ecotourism.

"Keeping the lower Mekong free flowing is the best decision for Cambodia's people and nature. WWF stands ready to support the development of clean, renewable energy alternatives that help to achieve the country’s energy goals,” said Teak Seng, WWF-Cambodia Country Director.

Free-flowing rivers are important for humans and the environment alike, yet unsustainable economic development around the world is making them increasingly rare. Dams and reservoirs are the leading contributors to connectivity loss in global rivers. WWF is advocating for rivers to be valued and the focus turned to alternative renewable energy sources like solar and wind to keep them as free-flowing as possible. Find out more about our work.