Environment

Cambodia's Koh Rong Island

Cambodia's second largest island covers 30 square miles off of the country's coast in the Gulf of Thailand.

5. Description

The beautiful island of Koh Rong is also known as Kaôh Rōng or Kos Rong. It is the second largest island in Cambodia, and is located in the Koh Kong Province in the Gulf of Thailand. The island stretches across approximately 30 square miles, with 16 square miles of beaches alone. Four small villages occupy the island, founded in the year 2000, when people first started to settle on the island. These four villages are Koh Tuich Village in the southeast, Prek Svay in the east, Doeum D'keuw in the northeast, and Sok San Village in the northwest. There are a growing number of beach houses and resorts since the island has grown in popularity among tourists seeking to experience the as of yet minimally touched island paradise. The development of villages and resorts is increasing on the coast and near the beaches, while the interior of the island remains a dense forest.

4. Historical Role

Little is known about the history of the island prior to 1960. No humans are believed o have settled on the island prior to 2000. Even the name of the island remains a mystery. Some claim it comes from an old Khmer word for either tunnel, cave, or shelter, while others say it is the name of a historical character. From 1960 to 1975, the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port and the Royal Cambodian Navy managed the island. During the infamous Pol Pot regime in Cambodia (1975 through 1979) no organized fishing activities were permitted and, from 1979 through 2000, the Cambodian Navy retained control over the area. Today, the island has become important for investors in the tourist industry.

3. Modern Significance

The current population is composed of 1,100 residents. Most of the locals make a living from fishing as well as from small scale agriculture. An increasing number however, are finding jobs in the growing tourist sector. Koh Tuich Village, in particular, is known for tourism as it is the entry point onto the island. In this village tourist businesses currently outnumber residential homes. In 2012 the island finally received internet connection, a growing demand by tourists and locals alike. The island is perhaps most famous for being the site of the American reality television show Survivor for seasons 31 and 32. It was also the site for French and Swedish television shows some years back. In order to develop the island's infrastructure the Royal Group, Cambodia's largest conglomerate of investors, was granted a land concession with a 99 year lease by the Cambodian government to increase the revenue coming from tourists. The Royal Group plans to build Asia’s first environmentally planned resort island. However, one of the vital investors dropped out of venture and funding is decrease, leaving much needed infrastructure undeveloped.

2. Habitat and Biodiversity

The terrain is predominantly composed of hills with a sizable mountain standing 1036 feet high in the north-west of the island. There are a number of creeks and estuaries as well as waterfalls within the island's forested interior. Koh Rong also has around 23 beaches of different size and color, with white, beige and rose-colored sand. Bays, protruding capes and impressive sandstone rock formations are what make the island a scenic masterpiece. The southern coastline, ravaged by the wear and tear of the weather has created a spectacular view towards the sea. The eastern coast, which faces the mainland of Cambodia, has smooth hills that flow into the many beaches, inlets and bays. Several small islets and many reefs provide homes for a large variety of marine life. On land visitors can spot water buffaloes and the animals of the locals, but apart from the odd snakes and lizards, the wildlife is limited. The lack of a formal road network adds to the feeling of an untouched island paradise. The larger roads that do exist are unfortunately a result of illegal logging.

1. Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes

Since 2000 the Department of Fisheries is the Cambodian government agency responsible for managing the aquatic resources around the island. The Department cooperates with local authorities, communities, local fishers, and nongovernmental organizations alike to manage and conserve the area's resources. However, illegal logging is a serious threat to the island's ecosystem. The island may still look covered in forests, though unfortunately the larger and older, and thus more oxygen-producing trees, are becoming increasingly rare. The original variety of tree species has been replaced with commercial crops such as coconut and oil palms. The increase in tourism and the number of people visiting the island has changed the environment and will continue to alter the plant and animal species of the Koh Rong. However, the Royal Group's lack of development has led the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism to threaten to revoke its permit, allowing the island a respite from development.

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