SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 14, July 2016 - Page 37

waters, temples are built to worship the Gods, and on the 16th of every month – in timing with the lunar calendar, offerings are made to the Gods of wine, beer, rice, fruit and duck. Every boat has a spirit house to welcome the gods. This belief translates to the dinner plate as it is bad luck to turn a fish over because it means the boat will tip over too.

These beliefs and myths – like most tales of sea monsters — have a root in the existence of a unique or bizarre, bottom-dwelling creature. In the case of the Mekong, it is home to the biggest freshwater fish ever caught and recorded, the giant catfish, that can reach lengths of 9 ft. and weigh close to 700 lbs. Similarly, the river hosts the giant freshwater stingray (14 ft. in length), the giant soft shell turtle and the freshwater crocodile.

The Mekong is one of the richest and most diverse rivers in the world, with new species being discovered all the time. The Mekong Region contains 16 of the 200 World Wildlife Fund’s designated ecoregions that harbor exceptional biodiversity, and has the greatest concentration of ecoregions in mainland Asia.

The Mekong is also a battleground. It has borne witness to thousands of years of war and revolution. Scenes from ‘Apocalypse Now’ paint a region ravaged by war and cloaked in mist, with waters muddy and blood red. Today, the biggest threat to the Mekong is the huge rise in population density, infrastructure and tourism since Vietnam’s borders opened 10 years ago. Now, a different battle is being waged – to meet economic development and growing demand for water and energy both in the burgeoning region and upstream from big brother, China.