Irrawaddy River

The Irrawaddy Dolphin Protected Area (ADPA) was established in 2005 and spans 74 kilometers of the Irrawaddy River from Mingun near Mandalay north to Kyauk Myaung, encompassing one-third of the range of a population of the critically endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin. The Upper Irrawaddy River also has important bird life that includes 126 species, 2 of which are are endangered and 4 near-threatened species. These are the Green Peafowl, Black-bellied Tern, Black-headed Ibis, Oriental Darter, River Tern, Feruginous Pochard, Common Shelduck and Streak-earned Bulbul. Other notable species on the Upper Irrawaddy are pained stork and greater cormorant.


An Irrawaddy dolphin. Photo (c) Saw Htoo Tha Po/WCS

The dolphin population of the Ayeyarwady River is low, but fairly stable in recent years, with annual counts between 2010 and 2017 estimating between 60 and 70 individuals remain in the river. One of the major threats is from electric fishing, which can cause electrocution of dolphins while fishermen try to shock or kill fish by using car batteries and long metal prods. Electric fishing also causes habitat displacement and depletion of fish stocks. Another common threat is entanglement in gillnets, which are placed across large sections of the river to catch all passing fish.  Sedimentation in deep pools from gold mining and other dredging operations is destroying dolphin habitat, while mercury poisoning from gold mining operations is an added threat from modern development upstream.  As tour boat traffic increases on the Irrawaddy River, there is also a growing potential for harassment, habitat displacement and vessel collisions from dolphin watching activities.

The WCS Myanmar Irrawaddy dolphin project team about to leave for an excursion along the river. Photo (c) Eleanor Briggs/WCS

The project is managed by the Department of Fisheries with support by Wildlife Conservation Society with the main objective to reduce threats to dolphins through monitoring, law enforcement, education and livelihoods. The project conducts regular monitoring and patrol trips through the ADPA. Stakeholder meetings are held in communities and with concerned government authorities to coordinate the reduction of threats. An annual dolphin count survey is conducted to monitor the total population. Regular educational activities are done with schools and people living in the forty communities in the ADPA. The project is also assisting cooperative fishing communities to develop community-based eco-tourism in order to promote direct incentives for dolphin conservation and provide support for the symbiotic relationship between cooperative fishermen and the dolphins. 


The Irrawaddy river. Photo (c) Eleanor Briggs/WCS