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An extraordinary ecosystem. A wetland of vital economic and ecological importance.


Covering 2,500 km2 during the dry season, but expanding up to 12,000 km2 at the peak of floods, the Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. A unique hydrological phenomenon resulting from the link with the Mekong (see map) causes seasonal inundation of a vast floodplain around the lake, and of its peculiar vegetation, usually named 'inundated forest'.

This cyclic flooding creates a genuine vegetal broil, which forms the basis of the extraordinary biological productivity of the lake. The Tonle Sap is one of the world's top freshwater fisheries (300,000 tons annual catch). It also shelters the most important waterbird colonies of the region and supports the world's largest snake harvest (five million individuals per year!) -- mostly to be given as snacks for farm crocodiles. Three million Cambodians are directly dependent upon the lake's resources, as fish provide 70 percent of their protein intake.

UNESCO registered the Tonle Sap on the list of Biosphere Reserve in 1997, in view of its exceptional ecological, economic, social and cultural value.

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