11by Joni Verstraete

1. Aims and objectives

The objective of this article is to review the condition of the marine habitat and protected area of Koh Rung Samloem, tourism development patterns and impacts, management structures and effectiveness. The aim is to provide a set of comprehensive and realistic management recommendations for the protected area. The research took place from November 3-5 of 2011 ( field research) until December 2011 ( recommendations, results and finalization of the article). It included a semi-structured face to face Interview with the Manager of "Marine Conservation Cambodia" (MCC) Marine Skopal Papin, a field visit to Koh Rung Samloem, a review of literature and research of published data.

2. Protected area: Koh Rung Samloem

Cambodia, located in the Gulf of Thailand, is home to a diverse range of terrestrial and aquatic species and a 435 kilometer coastline. Many endangered and rare species have been found. The irregerurarly shaped island of Koh Rung Samloem is located approximately 20 km west of Sihanoukville, Preah Sihanouk province. The island is about 6km long by 3m wide. On the island, which is largely covered by dense humid forest, a rich biodiversity of fauna and flora can be found such as the oriental pied hornbill, great hornbill, monkeys, water dragons and 25 species of orchids. It is home to the M''Pai Community, with a total number of 38 households, who live in the Vietnamese bay in the northern part.

With the implementation of the land laws in Cambodia, there have been issues with the status of protected area. National parks covered a very large area of Cambodia in the past and the delineation of them is now in question with tourism and development.

An organization called Marine Conservation Cambodia, set up by a team of divers, managed to set up a Community Fishing Area, by getting an official order through the Fisheries Department. In everyCFA there must be a conservation area directly managed by the community. This led to the empowerment of the community to create and protect its own conservation area. This 4km wide protected bay is formed on the eastern side of KRS Island. It encompasses both the main seahorse breeding grounds and the KC Reef, an area that used to be fished illegally often by the use of destructive fishing techniques. KC Reef has a wide variety of soft corals, sponges and marine fish species that are seldom seen elsewhere. It has a large population of both Brown Banded Bamboo Sharks and Coral Cat Sharks, the Black spotted Tusk fish and many other larger species. Juveniles of many species are often seen on and around this reef. The protected area could be categorized in IUCN's six category system (1994) as a Category V Protected Seascape.

Figure 1: Koh Rung Samloem (under pink line)


Source: Skopal & Ferber (2010)

3. Management

The Community of M‟Pai Bei has been achieving conservation around the Island of Koh Rung Samloem since 2007, through the support of the Fisheries Administration (FiA), local authorities and partner organization Marine Conservation Cambodia. The data collected by MCC is used by government bodies for decision making on conservation strategies and setting up an Integrated Coastal Management plan.

MCC and the community monitor the marine ecosystem, rebuild habitats and collect information on the reefs health status and biodiversity to try to reduce negative impacts on them. They implement traditional and alternative fishing methods, raise awareness for illegal fishing and collecting of endangered species, environmental awareness and improving waste-management MCC teaches the communities to develop community management plans and provide them with alternative forms of income generation through scuba diving and eco-tourism. They improved health care and cooperate with Italian NGO CCS to provide resources, rebuilding and staffing of the new school.

4. Tourism

4.1. General facts

Tourism is an essential part of Cambodia's development and fast growing. Total foreign tourist arrivals reached 2.2 million in 2008. Tourism numbers for 2009 were: 2,161,577 (Tourism Cambodia, 2009). Angkor Wat plays a major role in Cambodia's tourism, but there's evidence Cambodia is also loved for its preserved coastline and the low impact of mass tourism

Figure 2: People's main motivation for choosing Cambodia over another SEA country


Source: Skopal, Ferber & Fairclough (2010)

The island of Koh Rung Samleom (KRS), has been kept away from heavy development programs but has now been leased for development to a Hong-Kong based firm and eventually implementation of a Master Plan, currently being reviewed by the Cambodian government, will start. The average yearly visitation volume now is 12 544 visitors ( Skopal, Ferber & Fairclough 2010) .

Table 1 shows the existing infrastructures on Koh Rung Samloem

(Columns: Location, Type of accommodation,  Owner,  Price (USD),  Type of tourism,  Average visitation volume)


Source: Skopal, Ferber & Fairclough (2010)


Figure 3: Visitation volume in Koh Rung Samleom from August 2009 to May 2010


Source: Skopal, Ferber & Fairclough (2010)

4.2 Types of Tourism:


As there are both shallow and deeper sites, the diving around Koh Rung Samloem is accessible to all abilities and snorkelers can explore the shallower reefs and areas.

A daily flow of visitors brought by dive operators can be observed around the island. Different categories of dive operators are found in Sihanoukville, 3 smaller operators with an average of 1-2 guests a day and 3 larger operators with 10-25 guests a day.

Fishing and Cruising:

Small numbers of tourism related to recreational fishing and cruising (average of 2 people per week) can be seen around the island.


Other types of tourism mostly emphasize on nature tourism such as walking/hiking, visiting, backpacking and sightseeing and learning about Cambodian culture.


Volunteers participate in:
• Marine research
• Marine conservation
• Teaching English and conservation
• Health care
• Day care centre
• Integrated coastal management
• Intensive training in reef/marine survey methodology

An average of 200 volunteers a year stay on the island. They can apply directly through the website or with volunteer organization Projects Abroad. Food and accommodation is provided by MCC.

5. Impacts on local, natural and socio-cultural systems

5.1 Environmental

Positive impacts

• The volunteer program

The volunteer program has positive impacts on the conservation of the protected area:
Two of the main sea horse breeding grounds have been preserved, most illegal collections of sea horses have been stopped, degraded sea-grass beds were restored, they assisted fishing communities through education and training, daily monitor the site to protect the bay, collect rubbish in and around the island, built an artificial reef and introduced systems for waste management.

Negative impacts

• Terrestrial runoff:

Infiltration and run-off of nutrients and sediment can be reduced by soil compaction, logging and soil surface sealing. Because of the planned development projects these negative impacts could be feared around Koh Rung Samloem and have a negative impact on tourism in years to come.

• Waste management:

The development of hotels and resorts will bring the issue of waste discharge and its impacts on marine life: death of coral reef, followed by a decline in marine species. Without any healthy coral reefs to observe, visitation volume will eventually decrease.

• Carrying capacity:

As the number of divers increases there's a risk of an open access system that can lead to reef deterioration through the impact of high levels of tourism usage. Pollution from the vessels and damage to the coral reefs is among the range of possible tourism effects.

• Disturbance of site monitoring:

Divers from several dive operators have been spotted removing the markers for site monitoring and protection of the reef. They enter the conservation area.

5.2 Socio-cultural

Positive impacts :

• Intercultural encounters

MCC believes the constant flow of different volunteers keeps the community positively engaged. The intercultural encounters between the community, visitors and volunteers result in sharing of knowledge and capacity broadens the world view and enhance mutual understanding.

Negative impacts

• Lack of visitor management

There have been incidents on KRS Island in which tourists, whose accommodation have been provided by dive operators on the island, haven't been informed by the local dress code and customs and shocked villagers by walking around in bathing suits or top less.

Volunteering is a very delicate subject and in a recent report ' AIDS orphan tourism: A threat to young children in residential care' (Richter & Norman 2010) it has been said to be harmful rather than beneficial for the communities and especially the children, opinions vary on this subject in Cambodia.

5.3 Economic:

Positive impacts:

• Improvement local livelihood conditions.

MCC employs over 20 people from the community, covering all food and medical costs for those employed including their children. New businesses have opened just because there is now a more regular demand, due to the increasing numbers of volunteers. There's a significant improvement in local livelihood conditions and villagers themselves are involved in management.

6. Visitor management

6.1. Interpretation

On arrival guests get informed about the dos and don'ts on the island by one of the staff members. The volunteers also receive this information on arrival. No visual media or additional information is provided. The volunteers are constantly reminded by staff how to behave to conserve the environment and respect the local community. Volunteers also receive intensive training in reef/marine survey methodology.

6.2. Zoning

A zonal management plan is currently being elaborated for M'Pai Bei Community Protected Fishing Area, with basic conservation criteria principally emphasizing on fishing practice and specific gear restriction, fishing period regulations and protected/conservation zone.

MCC suggest a Multiple-use Zoning Design with five types of zones:

General Use Zones

All fishing activities may be undertaken. Anchoring is allowed, diving is made possible but snorkeling is forbidden for safety reasons.

Special Purpose Zones

Correlate to needs related to fishing activities: where to anchor/moor, pier building, boat fixing, etc. Fishing is very limited.

Limited Use / Buffer Zones

Aims to provide a transition space between a highly protected area (Conservation & Replenishing and Sanctuary zones) and surrounding zones (General Use Zone) where heavier activities are allowed, as well as between the PA and areas outside the PA that are less managed and controlled. Fishing activities within the buffer zone are moderated, anchoring is forbidden while snorkeling and diving are allowed to attract tourism.

Conservation & Replenishing Zones

Areas closed to fishing, to increase the productivity of the area and the surroundings zones (Buffer and General Use Zones). Conservation zone and area where fishing and collection are excluded. Meant to attract snorkelers, and divers who can appreciate a rich ecosystem undisturbed by human activities. Anchoring is strictly forbidden.

Sanctuary Zones

Areas set aside for their high ecological importance, shall be undisturbed and kept for scientific research and activities.

Figure 4: Multiple-use Zoning Design


Source: Skopal, Ferber & Fairclough (2010)


Figure 5: Most effectively protected zone


Source: Skopal, Ferber & Fairclough (2010)

6.3 Waste Management

A waste management program has been a priority for MCC and the village as the waste issue has lasting consequences for both the well being of the village and also the marine conservation efforts. Volunteers have designed an incinerator for use by the village and construction is now underway. The main aim of this project is to conclude the best method for waste disposal and future waste minimization within M'Pai Bei community.

6.4 Tourism-based User Fees (TUFs)

MCC wants to introduce Tourism-based User Fees to Koh Rung Samloem and has conducted a feasibility study that shows the political and economical conditions for the fees.

For the political conditions there has been support from the Cambodian Fisheries Administration and support from Sihanouk Ville Municipal Government, the first Municipality to adopt an ICM Program in June 2000.

The current economic situation of Cambodia, consequence of a recent troubled history, does not allow the Royal Government to allocate enough funding to conservation projects. Moreover, external factors such as the global recession of the last several years increase this difficulty. Until now, the M'Pai Bei community has been self-financing its project through the help of MCC. Daily patrols are conducted using long-tail boats in order to maintain the protection of the area. However, patrolling represents a significant cost that consumes the majority of the community's budget.

At present, M'Pai Bei, with the help of MCC, has managed to save enough funding for start-up of TUF Program. With the approval from the concerned governmental administrations the TUF program could be up and running within a few months and be ready for the next tourism season. In this case, the income generated by TUFs would significantly subsidize the environmental protection of the coastal areas. A fee of 2 USD per person, included in the cost of a dive/cruise/fishing trip, seems to be the most optimal way for MCC of introducing TUFs. On a yearly basis, a 2 USD fee would bring a total of average of 25 088 USD. Different categories of tourists and businesses were interviewed and the results showed around 70 percent are in favor of charging a fee.

A system of tickets could be collected by a team of rangers from the local community, also in charge of patrolling the area. They would make daily visits to each boat entering the area, checking on the number of people aboard and collecting the tickets. Money from the fees would then be collected once a month from the different operators.

7. Management evaluation and recommendations.

7.1. Involving all stakeholders

M'Pai Bei villagers have been involved in the planning and implementation of tourism since its beginning: this has proved to be fundamental in the success of the project. It's giving the community the process and capacity to make decisions that consider the long-term economy, and ecology.
Although the cooperation with the community and government is excellent, there's no involvement of local dive operators or accommodation providers, even the ones situated on the island. Although the majority of the dive centers in Sihanoukville advertise themselves as responsible, they have no mechanisms of channeling benefits back into the community and conservation.

MCC advises tourists to dress and behave modestly, but tourists coming through other operators and accommodation providers aren't advised. Also the codes of conduct for conservation of the area are not applied by these businesses. The efforts from MCC are being diminished by the others due to a lack of communication. Management of MCC have been saying involvement of all stakeholders is important but currently no action has been undertaken.

All stakeholders should be involved in creating a tourism management plan, currently non existing although data on tourism has been collected. This will contain the tourism objectives, visitor management plan with zoning, waste management and interpretation, the possibilities for funding such as TUFs and other mechanisms, the marketing plan, responsible volunteering and ways of monitoring and evaluation. By involving all stakeholders through consultations, meetings or workshops, possible conflicts can be minimized or avoided.

MCC must try to set the example for the other operators and stakeholders and start the dialogue. The government must also be made aware of the predicted negative impacts of the future development on the island.

7.2. Develop tourism objectives

No actual objectives for tourism have been developed except the possibility of implementing TUFs. Objectives for tourism on KRS Island could be to increase visitors, enhance visitor management while still preserving and conserving the area and benefiting the community.

7.3. Visitor management

Due to the future development of the island an increase of visitors can be predicted. For these visitors there's currently no visitor management plan.
Visitors often don't realize their impact on local communities and the protected area and don't know the local culture and customs. Tourism can cause both accidental and purposeful damage to cultural protected areas but the pressures of visitors can be mitigated by appropriate management practices.


When visitors arrive on KRS island, the introduction is only a factual interpretation, explaining the do's and don'ts on the island. It's important M'Pai Bei doesn't lose its cultural identity by catering for the perceived needs of tourists.

Although resources are limited due to the remote location of the island, its recommended a much more extensive visitor management plan that focuses on interpretation and several techniques to enhance the visitor experience, very important in spreading the conservation message. Understanding the protected area will add value to the visitor's experience.

A shift is needed from a factual style to an interpretative style of visitor management, using different media to reach the visitor. Introducing education programs that teach low-impact ways to visit a site and the set up of a visitor centre is recommended.

To justify possible TUFs, quality of visitor management has to be raised.
This cohesive interpretation program could help to understand the culture and life of the local community and portray their views and stories and the value of the protected area to them.

Finally indications on where to walk on the island and where not should be implemented. A self guided walk could be given to the visitors, supported by a map and leaflets. Guided tours should be available, guided by one of the locals. A very nice idea is a campfire talk, where old legends of the community are revealed.


The advantage of zoning is it can reduce competition and conflicts between human uses of the area (subsidence vs. commercial fishing; professional vs. recreational activities; exploitation vs. protection of the resources, etc.) while still allowing for conservation.

The relationship between visitors (divers, sailors, swimmers, snorkeling) and professionals (fishermen), competing for the same use of space, could worsen if a well-thought zoning plan hasn't been implemented.

Impacts of tourism are inevitable and to have more effective management leading to desired conditions of every zone in the protected area, the multiple zoning plan should be part of a Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) management framework. The LAC can identify limits to address the requirements for resource protection and conservation in each zone. Indicators for marine conditions have been selected, but indicators for social and psychological conditions should also be set. Alternative uses for each zone are now recognized but specific indicators for each zone, desired conditions and limits of acceptable change should be identified. Management actions for each alternative should be determined, implemented and monitored. Conditions should be evaluated regularly and activities adapted or revised if necessary. The participation and consultation of the community and different stakeholders is again vital through the whole process. It's also recommended to design some recreational zones on the island, zonal management has been designed for the areas in the sea but not on the island.

Waste management:

Implementing the waste management plan is important in taking responsibility for human's impact on the environment and conserving the area by reducing waste. The community is now working on waste management, as are the volunteers but there has been no communication to the guests. Guest's awareness on the impacts of waste should be enhanced and added to the visitor management program.

7.4. Responsible volunteering

Working with volunteers MCC has clear communication on the overall aims for the development of Cambodia and projects that improve the community's livelihood and conservation. Volunteers are well managed and well trained.
It's recommended for MCC to be aware of lengths of placements depending on the type of work. Manual tasks can be undertaken in only a few days but when working directly with people a minimum stay of 3 months is recommended. This way the volunteers can help in the development of the capacity of the staff and local community.
MCC should have a code of conduct, to be signed by the volunteers. In this code for example the volunteer is told to be sensitive about Cambodian culture, how to dress and behave and respect the environment and protected area. They should also communicate how much of the fee goes to the project.

7.5. Funding

Funding is not sufficient to achieve the objectives and cover the running costs. The idea of TUFs is viewed positively by stakeholders and visitors. It will also provide a regular flow of income. Important here is all stakeholders agree to and understand why it is done. Tourism operators get involved in the conservation program by helping to collect the fees and raising awareness. Charging the fee could also discourage mass tourism and attract the right market. As visitation volume is expected to increase, the fee will have to be re-evaluated when necessary, which should not be an issue since 42 percent of visitors surveyed were already willing to pay more than 4 USD. Government institutions would be most qualified to implement the plan, with advice provided from MCC.

However, there are some drawbacks to rely on tourism for funds: When tourism is affected by instability in the region, crisis or other reasons may affect the budget. Therefore one can not fully count on the benefits of TUFs and volunteers and other ways of funding must be explored.

MCC should try to convince the government of the importance of funding for conservation. Because the majority of local people in Cambodia can't afford to pay taxes to support this funding, they could introduce new fees or taxes that are specifically dedicated for funding conservation activities. For example, in 1996 the Central American country of Belize (which has the world's second longest barrier reef, attracting divers from around the world) passed a new law requiring all foreign tourists to pay a conservation fee of US $3.75. This fee is collected at the same time tourists pay the airport departure tax of $11.25, so the two separate fees add up to $15 per person (Spergel, Griffin & Ahmed 2002). In Cambodia the airport departure tax is $15, adding $2 for example, this would be $17.

Tourists can also be encouraged to provide more support if they want to support the project like giving donations or raising funds. Another strategy to increase income from tourism is to improve marketing

7.6. Marketing

For the moment tourism on the island is hardly marketed. It's not promoted on the website and few travel agents sell the accommodation to clients.

In the TUF's report there seems to be a positive idea on bringing more tourism to the island so the management doesn't purposely demarket the island, to conserve the area.

They have information on the kind of tourists that visit the area but there's no marketing plan or vision to target them. With marketing they can manage who arrives and in what numbers.

It can be recommended to write a tactical marketing plan to broaden their tourism base, attract the right people and be prepared for unexpected changes in the market.

It will help to achieve the company's objectives and goals and increase responsible tourism in region. It's also strongly recommended to develop promotional tools as information on the accommodation on the MCC website, brochures and develop partnerships with responsible tour operators, organizations or hotels.

7.7. Monitoring and evaluation

Research on the impacts of tourism has been done but monitoring and research on visitors' expectations and experiences, plus the effects of the predicted increase in tourism, is also necessary. Also the effectiveness of management actions should be evaluated regularly. Problems can be highlighted and positive outcomes detected and communicated to stakeholders and donors. IUCN (2002) describes this kind of adaptive management, also mentioned in the LAC framework, as 'based on a circular management process, which allows information concerning the past to feed back into and improve the way management is conducted in future. Evaluation helps management to adapt and improve through a learning process'.

8. Conclusion:

There's been a significant improvement in local livelihood conditions and marine habitat conservation, and villagers themselves are involved in management and conservation.

After implementing our recommendations tourists will even more be attracted to this well-managed and healthy protected area and by involving all stakeholders the negative impacts of tourism will be minimized.


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Other sources

Interview with ICM Project Coordinator Marine Skopal-Papin and Science Officer Carly Atkins on 25/11/2010 on Koh Rung Samloem, Cambodia.


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