A proposed new dam on the Mekong River in Laos could wipe out the area’s last remaining Irrawaddy dolphins, the WWF has warned.
The conservation body said last week that the Don Sahong hydropower dam, which will be built just 1km from where the dolphins are known to live in the Lao province of Champasak, could threaten the “whole Mekong population” of Irrawaddy dolphins.
Only about 85 Irrawaddy dolphins are believed to be left in Laos and Cambodia.
“The Lao government’s decision to forge ahead with the Don Sahong hydropower project in southern Laos, located just 1km upstream of the core habitat for Mekong dolphins, could precipitate the extinction of the species from the Mekong River,” the WWF said in a statement.
The Lao government argues that the dam will have “no significant impact” on dolphins, and that the dam is vital for the country’s economy. The WWF countered however, that building the dam would be worse for the country than not building it.
“Not building a dam at Don Sahong is not an irreparable blow to the development aspirations of Lao… but building it would almost certainly cause the extirpation of Irrawaddy dolphins from Lao PDR and it could very well precipitate the extinction of species from the Mekong River,” the group said.
River dolphins have already become extinct in one Asian river – the Yangtze – this century. The Mekong could be about to follow suit.