Facts about Tonlé Sap

  • During the rainy season, the trip can take twice the time for the villagers to reach the dry land at the dock. Most of Cambodia’s floating villages are based on Lake Tonle Sap.
  • Though this is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia, this unique body of water changes drastically in size throughout the year. In the rainy season between June and October, the lake is massive, flooded with water from the Mekong River. In the dry season, from November to May, the lake shrinks to such a degree that its flow reverses to deposit water back into the Mekong.
  • Tonle Sap is 16,000 square kilometers and nine meters deep during rainy season. In the dry season, that shrinks to 2,700 sq km and between 1-2 meters deep.
  • Because the water levels differ so drastically in dry and rainy season, fishing families who make their living on the lake began living in floating villages which move with the changing water levels.
  • Providing over 3 million people with fresh fish means that fishermen are always in need. In total, 80,000 people live on the water permanently, spread out over 170 floating villages.
  • Unlike much of the Cambodian job opportunities, the income is also reliable, but life on the water is difficult.
  • Fishermen sometimes travel two days to reach the middle of the lake and spend up to a week at a time out fishing. Large waves, limited food and dangerous conditions take their toll. The life expectancy of a fisherman is 54 years.
  • Unfortunately it is fairly common for fishermen not to return from their week-long trips. Many of the floating villages have their own floating orphanages to handle the many children whose parents do not survive.
  • Life is hard on children, too. 12 per cent of the children die before the age of five due to the tough living conditions, the lack of medical care and malnourishment.
  • Flooding during the rainy season each year reverses the flow of the Tonle Sap River and triples the surface area of the lake
  • Tonle Sap provides 75% of Cambodia’s national inland fish production
  • Fishing and agricultural activities around the lake support 1.2 million Cambodians. Fish from Tonle Sap are thought to be the single main source of protein for the Cambodian people.
  • Approximately 3 million people live around the lake.
  • The Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve management is based on identifying three zones (core areas, buffer zone and transition zone) and identifying different management goals for each. The core areas are set aside for long term protection and conservation.
  • Fish stocks and catch are dropping, deforestation is widespread and sewage & other waste are polluting the lake, which provides drinking water for thousands. The largest threats to the flooded forests are the clearing of forests to make way for agricultural land, collection of firewood, and collection of wood for fish traps.
  • Other issues that the community faces include erosion, nutrient pollution, and fisheries.
  • 90 percent of the people earn a living from fishing or agriculture
  • Although two of its villages sit on dry land, the other five are floating communitiesI thought earlier you wrote that there are 170 floating villages, now it seems you are saying there are only 5… please clarify.
    of houseboats on which people live and run businesses. Classrooms sit on floating platforms, and children row themselves to school on small sampans, the same means by which vendors go “door-to-door” to sell vegetables or noodle soup.
  • About 70 percent of the villagers earn only the equivalent of 70 cents to $1.90 a day

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