The Mekong River is approximately 4,350 km long, and is the 12th longest river in the world and the 7th longest river in Asia. The Mekong River Basin drains 795,000 km2. Originating in the Tibetan Plateau, the Mekong River crosses southern China before passing Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, where the Mekong flows into the South China Sea.


The Mekong River Basin is home to a large variety of ethnic groups. Millions of people are heavily dependent on Mekong Basin fisheries for food and income. No wonder the Mekong River Basin supports the most important fresh-water fisheries in the world, with an estimated annual fish production in the basin of between 2.3 and 3 million tonnes annually. The freshwater environments of the Mekong River Basin support well over 500 species of fish, making the Mekong one of the most biodiverse rivers in the world.


Quick Facts


Drainage Area: 795,000 km2. The Mekong Basin is home to the Mekong River, a large transboundary river with approximate length of 4350 km.

Population: 60+ million people live in the Mekong Basin

JurisdictionBorders six countries: China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Mouth is at the South China Sea. The four downstream counties have formed the Mekong River commission.


  • The Mekong basin has 20,000 species of plants, 1200 species of birds, 800 species of reptiles and amphibians and 430 mammal species. There are an estimated 850 fish species found in the Mekong system (possibly more).
  • Seasons are separated into wet and dry season. The wet season is characterized by intense rain and monsoons.


  • Themost significant threat to basin ecology is the number of large and small-scale dams that have been and continue to be built on the Mekong.
  • Deforestation has also contributed to a loss of biodiversity across the region.

The Tracking Changes Project funded by SSHRC is working primarily with ethnic Lao people living in northeastern Thailand (particularly Ubon Ratchathani Province), southern Laos (particularly Champasak Province) and northeastern Cambodia (particularly Stung Treng Province) to investigate wild fish, fish migrations, and associated capture fisheries.


The work in the Mekong River Basin is being primarily coordinated by Dr. Ian Baird from the Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA ( and Dr. Kanokwan Manorom from the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Ubon Ratchathani University, Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. A number of graduate students are expected to work on the project.


The research in the Mekong River Basin is initially focusing on collaborative research involving local people and local researchers in order to investigation how intimate knowledge about fish and fish migrations is disseminated through social networks that extend over space, including crossing national borders. We are also studying the dissemination of fish related knowledge between people, and across generations.


Ian Baird

University of Wisconsin – Madison

Kanokwan Manoram

Ubon Ratchathani University
Graduate Students

Akarath Soukhaphon

Ph.D. Candidate in Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

Supervisor: Ian Baird

Collaboration with: Ubon Ratchathani University

Research Topic: Ruptures at home: scaling down hydropower development impacts on ethnic Lao spaces in the Lower Mekong Subregion

The Mekong River and its tributaries have long been a source of vitality for those living along its banks. It has served as a conduit for material and intellectual exchange throughout history. Today, traditional knowledges and networks have been disrupted due to changing ecologies brought on by the construction of large hydropower dams. By employing a feminist political ecology framework that focuses attention on often overlooked marginalized scales and bodies, I aim to challenge the conventional discourse touting the benefits of hydropower by considering how such development projects, and subsequent ecological changes, have impacted long-standing social relations within and among ethnic Lao communities in northeastern Thailand, southern Laos, and northeastern Cambodia.

Amabel d’Souza

M.Sc. Graduate in Risk and Community Resilience at the University of Alberta

Supervisor: Brenda Parlee

Collaboration with: Treaty 8 Tribal Association / Ubon Ratchathani University

Research Topic: Diversification of Livelihoods in a Region Impacted by Hydroelectric Development: A Case Study in the Lower Mekong (Mun River/Sebok River)

Local people living along The Mun River and its tributaries, such as the Sebok River, hold a deep connection to the freshwater ecosystem and have longstanding traditional practices that are critical to their fishing livelihoods. These traditions and practices have been passed down over many generations and are based on well-developed local knowledge of their environment and communities. However, due to the rapid development of hydropower in the Mekong Basin, fishing livelihoods are becoming increasingly complicated by environmental impacts to aquatic ecosystems. Many households and communities are thus diversifying their livelihoods to survive. This thesis explores how local villagers in fishing communities on the Mun River and its tributary, the Sebok River, in Thailand, diversify their livelihoods and show resilience to the effects of hydroelectric development. Semi-structured interviews were conducted in nine villages to collect themes and opinions on the operation of the Pak Mun Dam, a controversial dam located near the confluence of the Mekong and Mun Rivers, and its effects on communities over the past twenty-five years. Emerging themes from the interviews showcase the importance of fish and fishing livelihood, culture, diversifications, community and connection to the land. These themes relate to existing theory and demonstrate the importance of Traditional Knowledge, resilience and well-being. The information presented in this thesis also showcases how Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) can be utilized towards community-based resource management and community involvement in decision-making regarding hydroelectric development.

Thesis available at

Wanapa Wongpinit

M.A. Candidate in Sociology at the Ubon Ratchathani University

Supervisor: Kanokwan Manorom

Research Topic: Gender and Indigenous Knowledge on Fisheries in the Mun River and Si Phan Don in Southern Laos

The study focuses on gender and fishery knowledge along the Mun River, wetland areas, and Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands) in southern Laos. Many scholars have addressed that fishing activities in the areas are very crucial for local livelihoods. Males and females have different knowledge of fishing, depending on their roles in ecological systems, development activities and policies of water resource management.

Sirasak Gaja-svasti (Toe)

M.A. Candidate in Sociology at the Ubon Ratchathani University, Thailand

Dr. Kanokwan Manorom – Supervisor


Fish Consumption in the Context of Community Change in the Tributaries of the Mun River

Rawuth Thongsing

M.A. Candidate in Mekong Regional Studies at the Ubon Ratchathani University

Supervisor: Kanokwan Manorom

Research Topic: Power relation in resource management in River basins:  a case study of Hua Na Dam

Jureerat Saisud

M.A candidate in Mekong Regional Studies at the Ubon Ratchathani University

Supervisor: Kanokwan Manorom

Research Topic: Co-management of Sebok Basin, Northeast region of Thailand

Phongthep Bunkla

M.A Candidate in Mekong Regional Studies at Ubon Ratchathani University

Supervisor: Dr. Kanokwan Manorom

Research Topic: Narratives of Local Pak Mun Fisheries and Practice of Everyday Life

This qualitative research aimed to study the dynamic of narrative on folk fisheries before and after the Pak Mun dam construction and to study narrative on folk fisheries as a practice of everyday life among local fishermen in Ban Huahew, Khong Chiam District, Ubonratchatani, Thailand. Theories of The Practice of Everyday Life and the Community Rights are implemented for data analysis in this research. The results revealed that fishermen of Pak Mun have their own identity, ecological culture, long settlement and the shared consciousness between Thai and Lao people from the two banks of the Mekong River. When the Pak Mun Dam construction had effect on local fishermen identity, the fishermen are stated to construct the folk narratives in relation to their everyday life for the negotiation and meaning reconstruction. The narratives were classified into 4 group namely folk narratives of underwater world and local geography, ghosts and local heroes, the metaphors about Pak Mun Dam, ecological culture and community rights.
In addition, the narratives of the local fishermen constitute the practice of ideology in three dimensions. First, the fishermen did not surrender to the power of the unfair state. Their narratives are the weapon of normal fishermen for constructing their own identity, ecological culture, and the shared consciousness. They created metaphors for Pak Mun Dam and its impacts on resource areas. Second, their narratives also contain civil disobedience of the local fishermen. They express their identity, long settlement and independence from the state’s power and the shared consciousness among fishermen of Pak Mun. Third, the narratives encompass community rights by telling the story of ecological culture or the reproduction of ecological culture and the reinterpretations from the current situations.