Some basic things to do to protect Myanmar's important aquatic species


Myanmar's Aquatic Ecosystem

Myanmar is between latitudes 09º32'N and 28º31'N and longitudes of 92º10'E and 101º11'E in Southeast Asia. Its area is 677,000 km2 with 936 km east to west distance and 2,051 km north to south distance. The length of its continental is 2,832 km divided into three coastal regions, the Rakhine Coastal region, the Ayeyarwaddy and Gulf of Mottama (Mataban) region (the Delta Zone), and Tanintharyi region. Myanmar has extensive inland water bodies of 8.1 million ha which include natural lakes, reservoirs, river systems, and ponds. Its river system consists of the 2,000 km Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy), Sittaung and Thanlwin (Salween) rivers, and 2,600 km of tributaries and smaller rivers combined. The country's fishing waters including Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is about 486,000 km2 and the continental shelf area is 228,781 km2. Fish and turtle are important species of Myanmar aquatic ecosystem. (Source)

Importance of fish 

In Myanmar, fish consumption rate per person is 68 kg/yr. People from inland eat mostly freshwater fish and people who live in coastal region prefer to consume marine fish. So fish is one of the major source of animal protein in Myanmar. The fisheries sector is one of the major components of the country's economy supporting thousands of households who are dependent on fisheries for their livelihoods. (Source)

Image Source: The Global New Light of Myanmar

Importance of turtle 

Turtles remove the sources of harmful bacteria in waterbodies. They eat animals that die in lakes and wetlands and carcasses of fish. Therefore, they become essential not only to maintain water quality but also to keep fish habitat and wetland areas thriving. When turtles become older, they prefer to eat more and more seeds and vegetables rather than protein. The nutrients are cycled in their guts and shells, with seeds in their guts. When they walk through in their territories, seeds are spread over the ground and new plants are encouraged to grow. That's why they play an important role in biodiversity and wetland habitats thrive because of them. Turtles are supporting a majority of fish and wildlife supporting good water quality and our wellbeing.

Black marsh turtle (Image Source: Wikipedia)

Some of Myanmar's cultural habits which may impact aquatic ecosystem

In Myanmar, there is a cultural habit of releasing animals into the nature on Full Moon days, national festivals and birthdays. Moreover, when aquatic pets grow older and become bigger in size, some of the owner wants to release them into the nature. Most of the aquatic animals being released are fish and turtle. Releasing animals back into the nature is surely a good thing to do. But if not being careful, this may destroy not only aquatic ecosystem but also the whole ecosystem. There are some invasive species which should not be released into the nature. Some of them are suckermouth catfish (Hypostomus Plecostomus) and red-eared slider (Tracemys scripta elegans) which can impact serious damage to aquatic ecosystem.

Impacts of Suckermouth catfish (Hypostomus Plecostomus)

Due to the large number of suckermouth catfish breeding in the rivers of Myanmar, other fish are facing the risk of extinction. Suckermouth catfish is a fish native to South America. It is being sold as aquatic pet in Myanmar, but some of these fish have been released into rivers and lakes and increased in amount. They can breed about 2,000 at a time. Suckermouth catfish are not edible because their bodies is mostly composed of bones and no meat. That's why the increase in quantity of this fish is uncontrollable.

According to the report, they are now even in fish breeding pond in Yangon and Ayeyarwaddy Division. Due to their habit of digging the ground, the pond frame collapses. They also eat lotus and variety of small aquatic plants and this can decrease the quality of wetlands and natural ponds. (Source)
Suckermouth catfish (Hypostomus Plecostomus)

Impacts of red-eared slider (Tracemys scripta elegans)

Red-eared slider, one of the invasive species, become a popular pet because of its tiny size and attractive colour. The owner may face some difficulties to take care of them when they become adults. At such time, they might be released into water bodies. These invasive species wander in nature and occupy many urban lakes and water bodies.

When they cannot have resources for food, their metabolism becomes slower and can live for months. These invasive species eat a variety of food, including vegetation, fish and insects which can result in lack of food resource for native species, turtle and others. As their numbers have increased in nature, native species are suffering.
Red-eared slider (Tracemys scripta elegans)


These two are most known invasive species in Myanmar. Releasing them into the nature is a threat not only to water resource but also to the whole ecosystem. So before releasing aquatic pets or some animals into nature, advices from some experts should be requested and the pets to be released should not be invasive species. For further information, there are some social media groups like Turtles & Tortoises of Myanmar and Wildlife of Myanmar where question about the invasive species can be asked.


Written by Chan Myae Naing, an intern at The Water Agency

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