"Protect Waters, Abundant Fish"
On 5 February 2014, thousands of people in the Kamoethway Area gathered on the bank of the Kamoethway River to conduct the opening ceremony for the establishment of the “Htan Ta Bin” Fish Conservation Area. The conservation area is located in Kamoethway Area, LerDoh So Township, Dawei District in Karen State.
The local elders once protected this area. However, the unstable political situation of recent decades made it difficult to effectively manage conservation. In 2004, an unusual land slide in the upstream area of the Kamothwey River destroyed several habitats for fish andother aquatic life.
Currently, the Htan Ta Bin Fish Conservation Area is the only area of the Kamoethway River that is still healthy.Today, as the situation has improved somewhat because of the ceasefire,local people have decided to more effectively protect this area again.
U Yeah Aung, a local villager, said:
“We are doing this because the rivers in this area are already extinct. Only this river is left. If we don't start to establish a conservation area in this river, there will be no fish species for our future generations.”
The fish conservation area is 1,550 meters long, 138 meters wide, and 21 feet deep. In total, 12 villages in Kamoethway Area are involved in the conservation project. This conservation project was initiated by the will of the local villagers themselves, without instructions from their leaders or the authorities. They do it because they see it as something that needs to be done, as well as something that benefits the community, the government, and the country.
A local woman who attended the ceremony said:
“This is the very first time in our lifetimes that a fish conservation area has been established like this. We see a lot of people joining together and we feel great. We believe that we must protect this area. Therefore we all joined happily.”
Another local woman said:
“I hope that this conservation initiative will benefit people in the Kamoethway area. We and our children will be able to see more fish species. Also, I hope that the water and the fish will create more food and drinking sources for our children. Because of the conservation project, fish are safe to come back and live here. Therefore, this benefits them, too.We Kamoethway people can also enjoy the beauty of nature.”
Local people also understand that this is their right, and that everyone has the right to maintain their traditions and conserve the environment in which they live. That is why they started this fish conservation project.
Thara Keh Doh, a member of the Community Sustainable Development Initiative (CSLD), the group organizing the event, said:
“We were born on earth, here in this place. We grew up and lived our lives here.This is the place that our grandparents left for us. Therefore, we can use, develop, govern and look after this place.We can also hand it to future generations for their wellbeing. These are our rights.”
The Kamoethway River is important for local people’s livelihoods. For this reason, local villagers are ambitious to conserve the river before it is too late.The river provides clean water, meat and fish, shrimp and crab. The villagers can only carry out agriculture and gardening because of this river.
U Yeah Aung said:
“This river is our life. If this river is extinct and gone, we will be affected also, because our lives depend on this river.”
In this fish conservation initiative, people of many ethnicities, such as Indian, Burmese, Karen, and Tavoyan, and different religions, such as Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim, are working together, willing and united.
Although the chairman of Megui-Tavoy District couldn’t attend the ceremony himself, he sent a letter saying:
“We are happy and appreciate that our people are proactive and working hard for their environment. For the sustainability of our people, our community,our environment and all living things in it,let each of us take our role in each corner, and let it build understanding, unity and solidarity among us.”
This is the very first time that a fish conservation area has been established by the community themselves. In the past, there were no conservation initiatives like this in the Kamoethway area. Therefore, people are very happy to witness one now. They also want their leaders to recognize their work and support them. Otherwise, the conservation wouldn’t last long.
Pati Saw Koh, a director of CSLD, said:
“There is no need to worry about the people doing their part to make the fish conservation area last forever. We all agree on that.The only ones we need to worry about are those who hold power in this country. If they respect this initiative, then it will last forever.”
Thara Keh Doh also said:
“To our leaders and the people who have authority and power, who see this, I want to say that this is not for us. It is for the benefit of the community and all living things. Therefore, I hope they will acknowledge and respect it. If the government loves its citizens and represents the people, I believe that it will acknowledge and accept this initiative.”