Global Efforts To Protect Endangered Freshwater Giants
The National Geographic Society is collaborating with the World Wildlife Fund by launching the MegaFishes Project, an ambitious four-year effort to protect the Earth’s largest freshwater fish, while raising awareness about the ecological status of the world’s rivers.
The MegaFishes Project spans six continents that included expeditions to study 14 of the most diverse freshwater systems that are listed by the World Heritage Sites and the United Nations Environment Program Biodiversity Hotspots.
Over the years, the unprecedented use of freshwater, over-fishing, and human-made pollution have led to a declining population of numerous aquatic species, especially, the freshwater giants that are disappearing at an alarming rate. To these international scientists, it is a race against the clock to protect and document these vulnerable species.
One of the largest rivers in the world, the Mekong Delta has yielded the most spectacular studies about some freshwater giants, such as the Giant Mekong Catfish. A photo of the map of Southeast Asia that shows the Mekong Delta flowing through the following countries: Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand.
Apparently, scientists were surprised to discover that the Giant Mekong catfish spent part of their lives at sea, which debunked the common notion that catfish were slow and lumbering bottom-feeders.
Scientists have recorded Pangasius gigas traveling as much as 600 miles (1000 km) inland from the south China sea up the Mekong River to spawn.
The recent discovery that Mekong catfish are anadromous, moving from coastal waters into fresh waters to spawn, has surprised even scientist's long-held notions of freshwater species. It may be that many other species of catfish also have similar migration habits, and that other species of freshwater fish may be found living part of their lives at sea. It certainly gives new meaning to the concept of "freshwater fish", if they spend part of their lives living in the salty waters of a marine environment.
Earlier this month, on Feb. 19, the Megafishes.org website reported that one these giants was caught Vientiane, Laos.
An estimated 250kg giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigus) was caught in Salao village, Phonthong district, Champassak province, on Saturday night at 11pm by a local fisherman, provincial authorities confirmed on Wednesday.
Witnesses said the endangered Giant Catfish (paa beuk) was sold to traders in Champassak province. According to witnesses, it was loaded onto a bus bound for Vientiane on Sunday but its whereabouts are currently unknown. At this stage it cannot be confirmed whether the fish arrived in the capital.
The MegaFishes Project has evidently made some educational inroads with the local population regarding the conservation of the Giant Catfish.
Fishery experts said the giant catfish is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It is likely to face extinction if comprehensive protective measures are not taken.
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Office Head, Dr Bounthong Bouahom, said the Laos law on Wildlife and Aquatic Species explicitly bans the catching or trade of paa beuk in an attempt to protect it.
Other freshwater giants are also found living in the Amazon River, the Arapaima and huge freshwater stingrays. Another little known species called, the giant Chinese paddlefish, also seems to be rapidly disappearing.
The MegaFishes Project also hopes to educate and raise awareness among the local, national, and global communities on the importance of freshwater conservation, which included freshwater science. Education is key to the success of this program.