The Mekong River, at 4,350 kilometres or 2,700 miles, is the twelfth longest in the world and the eighth longest in Asia. It flows from Tibet, through China (Yunnan Province), Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. However, the upper Mekong is not navigable for it’s entire length because of the seasonal rainfall, waterfalls and rapids in southeast Asia affecting the water level.
The Mekong River is called Mae Naam Kong in Thai, ‘Mae Naam’ (‘Water Mother’) meaning river and ‘Kong’ large.
The origins of the Mekong River are in Tibet in the ‘Three Rivers Area’ where the Yellow, the Yangtse and the Mekong exist almost side by side. From China, it meets Laos with Burma and forms the border between the two countries for 100 kilometres or so until it reaches the infamous drugs-related ‘Golden Triangle’ between Laos, Burma and Thailand.
From there, it flows between Laos and Thailand for a while, then heads off into eastern Laos, before returning to form the border between Thailand and Laos once again. From there the Mekong River flows into Cambodia. In southern Cambodia, the river meets up with other waterways to form the beginning of the Mekong Delta.
As the Mekong River courses southward to the sea, there are two basic forms of tributaries that contribute to it: those from Laos from the east bank that are made up of seasonal rainfall and those from Thailand to the west that drain Isaan of its mountainous waters.
The Mekong Delta lies mainly in Vietnam and is farmed by millions of the local people for both fish and rice, both of which can be disastrously influenced by both governmental mainstream damming and seasonal weather systems causing flooding and drought.
The Mekong basin is the second richest area of biodiversity internationally with only the Amazon boasting a higher diversity of life. Biota estimates for the environment of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) include 20,000 natural plant species, 430 mammals, 1,200 birds, 800 reptiles and amphibians and an estimated 850 fish species.
Not only that, but in 2009 alone, 145 new species were discovered in the Mekong Region, including 29 fish species previously unknown to science, two new bird species, ten reptiles, five mammals, 96 plants and six new amphibians. The Mekong Region contains 16 WWF Global 200 ecoregions, the greatest concentration of ecoregions in mainland Asia.
“No other river is home to so many species of very large fish. The biggest include the giant river carp (Probarbus jullieni), which can grow up to 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) and weigh 70 kilograms (150 lb), the Mekong Freshwater Stingray (Himantura chaophraya), which can have a wingspan of up to 4.3 metres (14 ft), the giant pangasius (Pangasius sanitwongsei), Siamese giant carp (Catlocarpio siamensis) and the endemic Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas), all three of which can grow up to about 3 metres (9 ft 10 in) in length and weigh 300 kilograms (660 lb). All of these are in serious decline, because of dams, flood control and overfishing.
“One species of freshwater dolphin, the Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), was once common in the whole of the Lower Mekong but is now very rare, with only 85 individuals remaining.
“Among other wetland mammals that have been living in and around the river are the smooth-coated otter (Lutra perspicillata) and fishing cat (Felis viverrina).
“The endangered Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) occurs in small isolated pockets within the northern Cambodian and Laotian portions of the Mekong River. The Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) once ranged from the Mekong Delta up the river into Tonle Sap and beyond but is now extinct in the river, along with being extinct in all of Vietnam and possibly even Cambodia.” [Wikipedia].
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by +Owen Jones