Tonlé Sap is one of Southeast Asia’s, if not one of the world’s, natural wonders. Between the dry and wet seasons, the lake expands almost six times in size to cover an area the size of Kuwait. The flows are so strong that the Tonlé Sap river actually reverses course, with water from the lake flowing into the Mekong river.
And that means the lake is one of the most biodiverse in the world, with fish populations that have sustained fishing communities for generations.
But the lake is currently stressed by climate change, overfishing, and hydropower damming. Abby Seiff’s Troubling the Water: A Dying Lake and a Vanishing World in Cambodia tells the stories of those who live along the lake’s shores, and how they try to keep their lives and livelihoods going.
In this interview, Abby and I talk about Tonlé Sap, how it’s changed in recent years–and what the lake’s communities tell us about what it means to be a climate refugee.
Abby Seiff is a journalist who was based in Southeast Asia for nearly a decade, working as an editor at the Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post and writing for publications such as Time, The Economist, Al-Jazeera, and Pacific Standard, among others. She is now a freelance correspondent.