Collaborators: Dr. Ellen Hines (SFSU), Chalatip Junchompoo and her team at the Eastern Marine and Coastal Resources Research Center (Rayong, Thailand). My research here is part of Ellen Hines’ larger research project, and I am lucky to be working with her (and now, my!) collaborators at EMCRRC.
Research here focuses on the southern stretch of coastline in Trat province, from Ao Trat (Trat Bay) down to the Cambodian border. Ellen et al.’s surveys here indicate that this coastal Irrawaddy dolphin subpopulation numbers over 1000 individuals, with sightings of Finless porpoise and Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphins also popping up. So, unlike my other study sites, the Irrawaddy dolphins here do not seem to be Critically Endangered, though this population has not yet been assessed by the IUCN Red List.
However, bycatch has been reported in fishing nets in previous interviews. It’s hard to determine how significant a threat this might be for this subpopulation, without more quantitative estimates of bycatch rate and fishing effort – and these are very tricky to measure rigorously in small-scale fisheries. Additionally, we don’t have data on historical numbers of dolphins, so we don’t really know if the population has declined, increased, or remained steady. Previous interviews with fishers yielded reports of dolphins increasing, decreasing, and staying the same, so that doesn’t really make the picture any clearer.
Local communities seem relatively engaged in fisheries management and conservation, with self-organized fisher associations in most villages that I visited. Activities of these associations include crab banks (collecting captured gravid crabs and not selling them until they released their eggs) and monitoring for illegal fishing (mainly commercial boats fishing inside the 3 km exclusion zone), and trying to lobby for regulation changes that reduce the encroachment of commercial boats in small-scale fishing grounds. There are also local initiatives to conserve the dolphins, assisted by outreach from EMCR.
I’ll be focusing on household RBSAs and key informant interviews, with some boat surveys, in July 2012; I’ll return in Jan-Feb 2013 with Ellen and the larger, international research team for more boat surveys and final key informant interviews.