From the Field

Mekong (Blogging) Odyssey: Jeff Opperman’s New York Times Series

May 31, 2013

Fishermen along the Mekong River capture their dinner by unfurling large nets. Image credit: Jeff Opperman/TNC

Nature Conservancy Senior Freshwater Scientist Jeff Opperman took a 1,500-mile trip down the Mekong River in January with his wife, son and daughter — to explore one of the most amazing freshwater ecosystems on the planet, one with “catfish the size of bears,” as he writes, and “with a giant freshwater stingray that could blanket a king-size bed and weighs as much as a buffalo.”

And a river which could all be radically changed in the next two decades by hydropower development.

In retrospect, the trip (see video and photos) might have been the easy part compared to what came next. After Jeff returned, he sat down to chronicle his experiences and thoughts for The New York Times‘ Green blog, one of the most important environmental news and commentary vehicles in the United States.

Then, with Jeff about halfway through his planned 10-post series, the Times shut down Green, dispersing the paper’s environmental coverage throughout the newsroom.

Undeterred, and with the help of his editor at the Times as well as DotEarth blogger Andy Revkin, Jeff was able to continue the series: with a coveted placement in the Times’ Scientist at Work blog — which any scientist worth her field notebook wants in on. The last of his four posts for Scientist at Work, “Hope Amid the Dams and Dangers,” ran there Tuesday.

Jeff’s entire series on the Mekong makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the socioeconomic forces that are tugging at the people along the river. And it also offers potential solutions to how dams and fish could coexist there sustainably. He also introduces us to some fantastic wild things — from Irrawaddy dolphins to Cantor’s giant softshell turtle hatchlings. Sadly, though, he finds vanished wildlife everywhere on the trip. It seems the Mekong has already changed, dams or no.

Congratulations to Jeff for a great writing achievement. Here are all links to all the posts in order:

For “Green”

Exploring the Mekong’s Uncertain Future

Beyond the Myth: The Bounteous Mekong

A Gentle Giant of a Catfish Fades from Sight

Lost Actors in a Haunting Landscape

A Tug Would be Thrilling: Where Are the Fish?

For “Scientist at Work”

Empty Nets on the Mekong

Mekong Mystery: Dwindling Fish

A Vital River, Drained of Wildlife

Hope Amid the Dams and Dangers

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