The proliferation of hydropower dams in China and Laos is disrupting the course of the river, the largest reservoir of freshwater fish in the world, which supports millions of residents.
The effects from dams on the river, the Mekong is not what it used to be. Drought and unusual tidal occurred including watercolor turns blue due to the decline in sediments in the water which makes muddy brown color resulted from the extremely low of the water level.
Even during the rainy season, the water level of the Mekong River is lower than average. Rocks and small islands appear, which are usually covered by water at this time of the year.
After the riverine ecosystem was negatively affected, due to the Xayaburi Dam and other dams upstream, making money from fishing became hard. If more dams are built including the Sanakham Dam, there will be no fish left for the next generation. Said a local fisherman.
During the rainy season, a fisherman tries to catch fish in the rapids amidst the rocks, raised due to the low water level of the Mekong River. These historically low levels are caused by the unexpected control of water inflow from upstream dams in China and Laos on the Mekong River. Sangkhom district, Nong Khai, Thailand – August 2, 2020.
Even during the rainy season, the water level of the Mekong River is lower than average. In the river, rocks and small islands appear, which are usually covered by water at this time of the year resulted from upstream dams in China and Laos - In Nong Khai, Thailand – August 2020.
53 years old fisherman, Adul Dulipee, caught 12 kilograms of black-eared catfish. Nowadays, the population of this fish is reducing due to the unusually low water levels and tidal activity downstream, preventing this specie from laying eggs. Before the dam was built on the Mekong River, fishermen could catch this amount of fish at least once a week. Sales which allowed them to gain sufficient income. As a direct result of the ecological changes to the riverine ecosystem caused directly by the dams, there are fewer fish to catch. Hence, they need to find alternative jobs to supplement their incomes, outside of their expertise, and locale. In Nong Khai, Thailand – August 2020.
Fishers are preparing their nets in the small harbor, to catch fish at dawn amid fewer fish affected by unusual tidal resulted by Dams upper stream. In Loei, Thailand – August 2020.
At dusk, a fisherman checks his net. Chiang Khan is close to the location of the Sanakham Dam plan. Here too, the riverine ecosystem is seriously disturbed, resulting in fewer fish in the river; caused by the Xayaburi Dam and other dams upstream. In Loei, Thailand – August 2020.
The new glass skywalk of Chiang Khan province is located at a joined border point between Thailand and Laos. This tourist attraction allows for beautiful views of the Mekong River running into Thailand from Laos. The Sanakham Dam site is planned only 2 km away from the border. In Loei, Thailand – August 2020.
The construction of the Dan Muang floodgate - the next Mekong River Water Diversion Project - is well underway. This floodgate will supply water to the Huai Luang River Basin and into the Chi River, which flows through the Northeastern provinces for agricultural and consumption usage. If the Sanakham dam is built on the Mekong River, it will affect the ecosystem and result in a lack of water in the lower basin and tributary rivers. In Nong Khai, Thailand – August 2020.
Fishermen are out fishing on the unusually low waters of the Mekong River. This is caused by upstream dams, resulting in fewer opportunities for a profitable catch. In Nong Khai, Thailand – August 2020.
Supol Khamthong, a 67 years old fisherman, caught a black-eared catfish weighing 5 kilograms. As the riverine ecosystem of the Mekong River is affected by the many upstream dams, water levels are lower than usual, negatively influencing this specie's reproductive cycle. Suppose more dams are built in the Mekong basin, this fish could become endangered. In Nong Khai, Thailand – August 2020.
Prayoon Sanair is sailing out to find fish during the sunset. He is 63 years old and has been a fisherman in Chiang Khan since childhood. After the riverine ecosystem was negatively affected, due to the Xayaburi Dam and other dams upstream, making money from fishing became hard. He's now relying on alternative jobs such as farming rubber and work in the construction sector. In Loei, Thailand – August 2020.
Saman Ruankham, 58 years old, is the only fisherwoman in Chiang Khan. She fell in love with this occupation at 17 years of age, when her parents took her fishing on a boat for the very first time. From the age of 20, she owned a boat and fishing equipment, making a living as a fisherwoman. After the construction of the Xayaburi Dam, along with other dams upstream, fewer fish in the river negatively affected her income. She's now a street food vendor at the walking street to supply her income, relying on tourists to buy her goods. In Loei, Thailand – August 2020.
Fisherman Sompron Ruankham, aged 56, is one of the members of a large family in Chiang Khan who's still trying to make a living by fishing. Nowadays, due to the decline in fish populations, making a living with fishing is already very hard. If they build the Sanakham Dam, the fishery will completely disappear. Chiang Khan, Loei, Thailand – August 2020.
Pisamai Ruankham, a 33 years old vendor, is part of a family of fishermen. Her father used to make a living only by catching fish. "We used to earn money every day by fishing, and then I would sell fish for the family. After the effects from the upstream dams took a toll, our family had to adapt to doing other jobs because fishing is not enough to feed us all, including my young child." In Loei, Thailand – August 2020.
Fishermen are building a public viewpoint space on the Mekong riverbank to accommodate tourists. In Loei, Thailand – August 2020.
Somporn Kaewmala has caught a common silver barb, weighing 5 kilograms, which is a rare sight these days. As a 62 years old fisherman who resettled from Laos since he was 10, he has witnessed the economic downfall of the fisheries on the Mekong River firsthand. After the Xayaburi Dam was built, water levels dropped. The fish can't reproduce, and people can't farm along the river banks. This negatively affects incomes, so people have to find work as a construction worker or other manual labor. If they build the Sanakham Dam, there will be no fish left for the next generation. In Loei, Thailand – August 2020.
This is the Huai Luang Flood Gate, which diverts water from the Mekong River for usage. If the Sanakham Dam is built, it will reduce the water supply in the lower basin, and tributary rivers. This will result in extremely low water levels in the dry season as well as unexpected water releases from dams upstream, affecting the proper function of the flood gate. In Nong Khai, Thailand – August 2020.
Fishermen ride a truck to their new jobs at a rubber plantation, in order to supplement their income after being left unable to make a living from fishing. A reduction in the fish population, caused by upstream dams on the Mekong River, lies at the root of this problem. In Nong Khai, Thailand – August 2020.
A fisherman is placing a small rod to trap fish in the rice field. Many of the fishers now work as rice farmers to increase their income, after the fishing industry became unprofitable. In Nong Khai, Thailand – August 2020.
The water level in the rainy season is lower than usual, as it controlled by several upstream dams. If the Samakham Dam is built on the Mekong River, the ecology of the Chiang Khan riverine area will be strongly affected, as well as the livelihood of many people living downstream. In Loei, Thailand – August 2020.
People's daily lives and activities are closely linked to the Mekong River. Nowadays, in the rainy season, the water level is lower than usual. Phon Phisai, Nong Khai, Thailand – August 2020.
Unusual tidal activity combined with the lower water level of the Mekong River is affecting the ecosystem and livelihoods of thousands of people along the river banks. The future for fishers on the Mekong River is uncertain. The fisherman is sailing towards the rain storm. In Loei, Thailand – August 2020.