Today, this change is mirrored in the region’s aspirations for a better life, the likes of which are shaping the future of the Mekong and that of its people.
Everyday life for the people of the Mekong basin is entwined with the natural rhythm of the river. Its active floodplains and biodiversity rich fisheries support food security and livelihoods. Its calm waters are used in recreation and for transportation. It replenishes crops, livestock and households, and for centuries, has brought meaning to an array of cultures.
Weaving 4,800 km from its icy headwaters on the Tibetan Plateau, the river flows through steep canyons of China (the upper basin), through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam (the lower basin), fanning out across the tropical lowlands of the Mekong Delta then draining into the South China Sea.
Today, the lower Mekong River mainstream remains free-flowing, unlike so many of the world's other great rivers. The people of the Greater Mekong have a unique opportunity to become a model of sustainable development, improving living standards through conservation of this vast natural resources and the ecosystem services it provides.
An abundance of life
The Mekong, its floodplains and tributaries support huge collections of unique flora and fauna including, critically endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins, the world’s largest freshwater fish – the Giant freshwater stingray - giant turtles, Mekong giant catfish, waterbirds, and Siamese crocodiles.
River of giants
The Mekong is one of the last large rivers in the world that still has active natural floodplain that nurtures an extremely high numbers of fish species, including some of the world’s largest.
With over 1,300 species of fish, the Mekong River is the world’s most productive inland fishery. Providing livelihoods to 60 million people, this fishery accounts for up to 25% of the global inland catch, providing up to 80% of all animal protein in to the people of the Mekong River basin. Fisheries in the Mekong River are worth 2.5 billion USD per year to the countries of the Mekong.
Many of the species in the Mekong are endemic. Many are super-sized. Among the species of the Mekong are some of the world's most charismatic fish including four to the world's largest:
- Giant freshwater stingray Himantura chaophraya (up to 600kg)
- Mekong giant catfish Pangasianodon gigas (up to 350kg)
- Giant pangasius Catlocarpio siamensis (up to 300kg)
Beyond fish, the Mekong basin is also home to a tremendous diversity of endangered species such as:
- Irrawaddy dolphin Orcaella brevirostris
- the Giant Ibis Pseudibis gigantea
- Siamese crocodile Crocodylus siamensis
Today, the lower Mekong River mainstream remains wild and free-flowing, unlike so many other great rivers of the world. Maintaining its health is one of the region's best defences against the impacts of climate change.
The report, River of Giants: Giant Fish of the Mekong, profiles four giant fish living in the Mekong that rank within the top 10 largest freshwater fish on the planet. At half the length of a bus and weighing up to 600kgs, the Mekong River’s Giant freshwater stingray is the world’s largest freshwater fish. The critically endangered and culturally fabled Mekong giant catfish ranks third at up to 3 metres in length and 350kgs.