National Geographic Society Research Grant, $30,080
IHE Delft, $30,127
Dr Lee Baumgartner and Vu Vi An, PhD student
Sustainable Development (International)
Currently in both the Mekong and Irrawaddy Rivers there is a poor understanding of fish migration from delta based species yet understanding fish migration ecology is vital to prevent extinctions of key species.
What we do know is that a significant proportion of freshwater fishes require access to critical habitat throughout their lives, and, that most species face global threats from river development.
The Mekong River is especially significant because migratory species, many which provide substantial food security and economic benefits, are expected to decline in the next 20 years. It has been long suspected that many large upstream migrants possibly originate from the ocean. If this is true, then the planned six future mainstem dams will block access to critical habitat. If hard data on fish migration can be obtained, there is a substantial opportunity to ensure future works incorporate adequate fish migration facilities. Once the dams are completed, it will be too late.
Up until now, it has been assumed that most Mekong fish spawn everywhere and that fish don't need to reach the ocean. The researchers intend to test whether these assumptions are true. They expect that, like other major rivers globally, some species will need to connect with the ocean. Pilot information has indicated that this is the case, but it needs to be validated on a larger scale. If consistent patterns emerge, then it will provide essential information to protect fisheries from hydropower.
The two research projects aim to begin to fill a major knowledge gap in relation to fish migration needed for better water management planning. Much of the research work is being undertaken by PhD student Mr Vu Vi An, the recipient of an Australia Award. An is also a director with the Vietnamese Research Institute for Aquaculture, in Ho Chi Minh City.
The researchers are using a range of innovative approaches to determine spawning times and locations of ocean-dependent fish across the Lower Mekong Basin and also in the Irrawaddy River Basin, Myanmar.
The findings from this project will give government planning and policy makers, dam operators and hydropower developers, better information about fish migration in the Lower Mekong Basin and Irrawaddy Basin so as to be able to make better water management decisions.
Dr Lee Baumgartner