Geography of Cambodia

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Geography of Cambodia
Cambodia on the globe (Cambodia centered).svg
Continent Asia
Region Southeast Asia
Coordinates 13°00′N 105°00′E / 13.000°N 105.000°E / 13.000; 105.000
Area Ranked 90th
 • Total 181,035 km2 (69,898 sq mi)
 • Land 97.50%
 • Water 2.50%
Coastline 443 km (275 mi)
Borders 2,530 km (1,572 mi)
Laos 555 km (345 mi)
Thailand 817 km (508 mi)
Vietnam 1,158 km (720 mi)
Highest point Phnom Aural
1,810 m (5,938 ft)
Lowest point Gulf of Thailand
0 m (0 ft)
Longest river Mekong river
486 km (302 mi)
Largest lake Tonlé Sap
16,000 km2 (6,178 sq mi)
Cambodia, Topography



Cambodia is a country in mainland South-east Asia, bordering Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and the Gulf of Thailand. Its main geographical features are the low central plain of the Tonlé Sap basin including the lower Mekong River, the Bassac River and the flat coastal areas, surrounded by mountain ranges to the North, North-East, in the South-West and South. The central lowlands extend partly into Vietnam to the East and South-East.[1]

Cambodia covers a total area of 181,035 km2 (69,898 sq mi). The country is situated in its entirety inside the tropical Indomalayan ecozone.

The highest peak is Phnom Aural, sitting 1,810 metres (5,938 ft) above sea level. The South and South-West of the country constitute a 443 km (275 mi) long coast at the Gulf of Thailand, characterized by sizable mangrove marshes, peninsulas, sandy beaches and headlands and bays. Cambodia's territorial waters account for over 50 islands.[2]

The landmass is bisected by the Mekong river, which at 486 km (302 mi) is the longest river in Cambodia. After extensive rapids, turbulent sections and cataracts in Laos, the river enters the country at Stung Treng province, is predominantly calm and navigable during the entire year as it widens considerably in the lowlands. The Mekong's waters strongly affect the seasonal nature of the Tonlé Sap lake and disperse into the surrounding wetlands of central Cambodia.[3]

Two third of the country's population live in the lowlands, where the rich sediment deposited during the Mekong's annual flooding makes the agricultural lands highly fertile. As deforestation and over-exploitation affected Cambodia only in recent decades, forests, low mountain ranges and local eco-regions still retain much of their natural potential. Although still home to the largest areas of contiguous and intact forests in Mainland Southeast Asia, multiple serious environmental issues persist and accumulate, closely related to population growth, uncontrolled globalization and insufficient administration.[4][5]

The majority of the country lies within the Tropical savanna climate zone, as the coastal areas in the South and West receive noticeably more and steady rain before and during the wet season. These areas constitute the easternmost fringes of the south-west monsoon, determined to be inside the Tropical monsoon climate. Countrywide there are two seasons of relatively equal length, defined by varying precipitation as temperatures and humidity are generally high and steady throughout the entire year.[6]

Geological development[edit]

Cambodia, geological map

Southeast Asia consists of allochthonous continental blocks from Gondwanaland. These include the South China, Indochina, Sibumasu, and West Burma blocks, which amalgamated to form the Southeast Asian continent during Paleozoic and Mesozoic time.[7]

The current geological structure of South China and South-East Asia is determined to be the response to the "Indo-sinian" collision in South-East Asia during the Carboniferous.[8] The Indo-Sinian orogeny was followed by extension of the Indo-Chinese block, the formation of rift basins and thermal subsidence during the early Triassic.[9][10][11]

The Indochina continental block, which is separated from the South China Block by the Jinshajiang-Ailaoshan Suture zone, is an amalgamation of the Viet-Lao, Khorat-Kontum, Uttaradit (UTD), and Chiang Mai-West Kachin terranes, all of which are separated by suture zones or ductile shear zones. The Khorat-Kontum terrane, which includes western Laos, Cambodia and southern Vietnam, consists of the Kontum metamorphic complex, Paleozoic shallow marine deposits, upper Permian arc volcanic rocks and Mesozoic terrigenous sedimentary rocks.[12]

The central plains consist mainly of Quaternary sands, loam and clay, as most of the northern mountain regions and the coastal region are largely composed of Cretaceous granite, Triassic stones and Jurassic sandstone formations.[13][14]

General Topography[edit]

Detailed map of Cambodia

Bowl-shaped,[15] Cambodia covers 181,035 km2 (69,898 sq mi) in the south-western part of the Indochinese peninsula as its landmass and marine territory is situated entirely within the tropics.

The bowl's bottom represents Cambodia's interior, about 75 percent, consisting of alluvial flood-plains of the Tonlé Sap basin, the lower Mekong River and the Bassac River plain, whose waters feed the large and almost centrally located wetlands. As humans preferably settle in these fertile and easily accessible central lowlands, major transformations and widespread cultivation through wet-rice agriculture have over the centuries shaped the landscape into distinctive regional cultivated lands.[16] The Mekong traverses the country from North to South-East, where the low-lying plains extend into Vietnam and reach the South China Sea at the Mekong Delta region.

Cambodia's low mountain ranges - representing the walls of the bowl - remain as the result of only rather recent substantial infrastructural development and economic exploitation - in particular in remote areas - formidably forested.[17] The country is fringed to the north by the Dangrek Mountains plateau, borderng Thailand and Laos, to the north-east by the Annamite Range, in the south-west by the Cardamom Mountains and in the South by the Elephant Mountains. Highlands to the north-east and to the east merge into the Central Highlands and the Mekong Delta lowlands of Vietnam.

A heavily indented coastline at the Gulf of Thailand of 443 km (275 mi) length and 60 offshore islands, that dot the territorial waters and locally merge with tidal mangrove marshes - the environmental basis for a remarkable range of marine and coastal eco-regions.[18]

Soils[edit]

"Sandy materials cover a large proportion of the landscape of Cambodia, on account of the siliceous sedimentary formations that underlie much of the Kingdom. Mesozoic sandstone dominates most of the basement geology in Cambodia and hence will have a dominating influence on the properties of upland soils. Arenosols (sandy soils featuring very weak or no soil development) are mapped on only 1.6% of the land area."

"Sandy surface textures are more prevalent than the deep sandy soils that fit the definition for Arenosols. Sandy textured profiles are common amongst the most prevalent soil groups including Acrisols and Leptosols. The Acrisols are the most prevalent soil group occupying nearly half of the land area of Cambodia. The main subgroups are: Gleyic Acrisols (20.5%, Haplic Acrisols (13.3%), Plinthic Acrisol (8.7%) and Ferric Acrisol (6.3%)."[19]

Geographical Extremes[edit]

Regions[edit]

Central plain[edit]

extensive flooding in central Cambodia

The Cambodian Plain is a geologically relatively recent depression where the sediments of the Mekong and its tributaries accumulate as waters are subject to frequent course changes.[20] The area covers 25,069 km2 (9,679 sq mi). The Tonlé Sap lake and the Tonlé Sap river system constitute the lowest areas. The Tonle Sap river is a waterway that branches off the Mekong near Phnom Penh in North-Westerly direction and meets the Tonle Sap lake after around 115 km (71 mi). Its waters flow reverses direction everye a year, caused by greatly varying amounts of water carried by the Mekong over the course of a year and the impact of monsoonal rains.

The vast alluvial interconnected floodplains of the Mekong and Tonle Sap basin are confined in the North by the Dangrek and Central Annamite Mountains, and to the South by the Cardamom Mountains and Elephant Mountains. These plains surround the Tonle Sap Lake in the western half of the country and wind their way through the middle of the country following the course of the Mekong River. The two basins form a single body of water, the whole of which effects about 75% of Cambodia’s land cover.[21]

Flow Reversal[edit]

The Mekong river and its tributaries increase water volumes by the beginning of spring (April, May) in the northern hemisphere, caused by melting snows. As the Mekong enters Cambodia (over 95% of its waters have already joined the river) it widens and inundates large areas. The plain's deepest point - the Tonle Sap - floods to up to a depth of 9 meters. The lake's inundated area varies from a low of around 2,700 km2 (1,000 sq mi) with a depth of around 1 meter at the end of the dry season (March, April) to 160,700 km2 (62,000 sq mi) in November. Flooding is being amplified by the waters of the annual monsoon, which starts in May/June and ends in October/November.

In November the lake might reach a size of 16,000 km2 (6,200 sq mi) and a depth of up to 9 meters. The annual monsoon ceases around this time of the year. As the Mekong river begins its minimum and falls deeper than the heavily inundated Tonle Sap lake, river and surrounding area, waters of the lake's basin now drains via the Tonle Sap river into the Mekong.[22][23][24] The Mekong branches off into several arms near Phnom Penh and reaches Vietnamese territory south of Koh Thom and Loek Daek districts of Kandal Province.

Southern Mountains[edit]

Tatai River, draining the southern slopes of the Cardamom Mountains
Kampot Province, countryside with remote Elephant Mountains

This region represents the eastern parts of the original extent of the wet evergreen forests that cover the Cardamom - and Elephant Mountains in South-West Cambodia and along the mountains east of Bangkok in Thailand.[25]

The densely wooded hills receive rainfall of 150–200 inches (3,800–5,000 mm) annually on their western slopes (which are subject to the South-West monsoons) but only 40–60 inches (1,020–1,520 mm) on their eastern - rain shadow - slopes.[26]

The Cardamom/Krâvanh Mountains

Main article: Cardamom Mountains

Occupying Koh Kong Province and Kampong Speu Province, running in a North-Western to South-Eastern direction and rising to more than 1,500 meters. The highest mountain of Cambodia, Phnom Aural, at 1,810 meters is located in Aoral District in Kampong Speu Province. The Cardamom Mountains form - including the north-western part of Chanthaburi Province, Thailand, the 'Soi Dao Mountains' - the Cardamom Mountains Moist Forests Ecoregion, that is considered to be one of the most species-rich and intact natural habitats in the region. The climate, size inaccessability and seclusion of the mountains have allowed a rich variety of wildlife to thrive. The Cardamom and Elephant Mountains remain to be fully researched and documented.[27][28][29][30]

The Elephant Mountains

Main article: Dâmrei Mountains

Chuŏr Phnum Dâmrei - A north-south-trending range of high hills, an extension of the Cardamom/Krâvanh Mountains, in south-eastern Cambodia, rising to elevations of between 500 and 1,000 meters. Extending 70 miles (110 km) north from the Gulf of Thailand, they reach a high point in the Bok Koŭ ridge at Mount Bokor (3,547 feet [1,081 m]) near the sea.[31][32][33][34]

To the South-West of the Southern mountain ranges extends a narrow coastal plain that contains the Kampong Saom Bay area and the Sihanoukville peninsula, facing the Gulf of Thailand.

Northern Mountains[edit]

The Dangrek Mountains

Main article: Dângrêk Mountains

A forested range of hills averaging 1,500–2,000 feet (450–600 m) and dividing Thailand from Cambodia. This east–west-trending range extends from the Mekong River westward for approximately 200 miles (320 km), merging with the highland area near San Kamphaeng, Thailand. Essentially the southern escarpment of the sandstone Khorat Plateau of northeastern Thailand, the Dângrêk range slopes gradually northward to the Mun River in Thailand but falls more abruptly in the south to the Cambodian plain. Its highest point is 2,497 feet (761 m).[35][36]

Chrey Thom Waterfall Mondulkiri

Annamite Range

Main article: Annamite Range

Lying to the east of the Mekong River, the long chain of mountains called the Annamite Mountains of Indochina and the lowlands that surround them make up the Greater Annamites ecoregion. This ecoregion has varying levels of rainfall of 1,500-3,850 mm annually. Mean annual temperatures are about 20 °C.[37] This region contains some of the last relatively intact moist forests in Indochina, formed as the moisture-laden monsoon winds blew in from the Gulf of Tonkin. This allowed the plants and animals adapted to moist conditions to seek refuge here and evolve into the specialized species that are found nowhere else on Earth.[38][39]

Ethnically diverse More than 30 ethnic groups live in the Annamites, each with their distinctive and traditional music, language, dress and customs. The natural resources of the Greater Annamites are vital to all of the people.[40]

Eastern Highlands[edit]

mountain panorama view in Mondulkiri province, north-eastern Cambodia, November 2012

Tall grasses and deciduous forests cover the ground east of the Mekong River in Mondulkiri, where the transitional plains merge with the eastern highlands at altitudes from 200–1000 meters. The landscape has suffered from rubber farming, logging and particularly mining, although sizable areas of pristine jungle survive, which are home to rare and endemic wildlife.[41]

Coast[edit]

Cambodia's coastal area covers 17,237 km2 (6,655 sq mi), distributed among 4 provinces: Sihanoukville province, Kampot province, Koh Kong province, and Kep province. The total length of the Cambodian coastal area has been disputed over the years. The generally accepted length is 440 kilometers, a 1997 survey by the DANIDA organization set the length at 435 kilometers, and the Oil Authority in 1973 determined the coast to be 450 kilometers long.

The southern mountain ranges drain to the south and west towards the shallow sea. Sediments on the continental shelf are the basis for extensive mangroves marshes, in particular in the Koh Kong province and the Ream National Park.[24][42]

Islands[edit]

Cambodia’s islands fall under administration of the 4 coastal provinces.[43] "There are 60 islands in Cambodia's coastal waters. They include 23 in Koh Kong province, 2 in Kampot province, 22 in Sihanoukville and 13 in Kep city.[sic]"[44] Most islands are, apart from the two small groups of the outer islands, in relative proximity to the coast. The islands and the coastal region of Koh Kong Province are mainly composed of upper Jurassic and lower Cretaceous sandstomne massives.[13] The north-westernmost islands near and around the Kaoh Pao river delta (Prek Kaoh Pao) area are to a great extent sediments of estuaries and rivers, very flat and engulfed in contiguous mangrove marshes.[45]

panorama of Koh Rong Sanloem's west coast, shot from the light-house in the south, Cambodia 2014

Climate[edit]

Map of rainfall regimes in Cambodia, source: DANIDA
Worldwide zones of Tropical savanna climate (Aw).
Worldwide zones of tropical monsoon climate (Am).

Cambodia's climate, like that of much the rest of mainland Southeast Asia is dominated by monsoons, which are known as tropical wet and dry because of the distinctly marked seasonal differences. The monsoonal air-flows are caused by annual alternating high pressure and low pressure over the Central Asian landmass. In summer, moisture-laden air—the southwest monsoon—is drawn landward from the Indian Ocean. The flow is reversed during the winter, and the northeast monsoon sends back dry air. The southwest monsoon brings the rainy season from mid-May to mid-September or to early October, and the northeast monsoon flow of drier and cooler air lasts from early November to March. Temperatures are fairly uniform throughout the Tonlé Sap Basin area, with only small variations from the average annual mean of around 25 °C (77.0 °F).

The maximum mean is about 30 °C ; the minimum mean, about 24 °C. Maximum temperatures of higher than 32 °C, however, are common and, just before the start of the rainy season, they may rise to more than 38 °C. Minimum night temperatures sporadically fall below 20 °C.[46] in January, the coldest month. May is the warmest month - although strongly influenced by the beginning of the wet season, as the area constitutes the easternmost fringe of the south-west monsoon. Tropical cyclones only rarely cause damage in Cambodia.[47][48]

The total annual rainfall average is between 1,000 and 1,500 millimeters (39.4 and 59.1 in), and the heaviest amounts fall in the southeast. Rainfall from April to September in the Tonlé Sap Basin-Mekong Lowlands area averages 1,300 to 1,500 millimeters (51.2 to 59.1 in) annually, but the amount varies considerably from year to year. Rainfall around the basin increases with elevation. It is heaviest in the mountains along the coast in the southwest, which receive from 2,500 millimeters (98.4 in) to more than 5,000 millimeters (196.9 in) of precipitation annually as the southwest monsoon reaches the coast. This area of greatest rainfall, however, drains mostly to the sea; only a small quantity goes into the rivers flowing into the basin. Relative humidity is high throughout the entire year; usually exceeding 90 percent. During the dry season daytime humidity rates average around 50 percent or slightly lower, climbing to about 90 percent during the rainy season.[19][49]


Climate data for Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 31.3
(88.3)
31.2
(88.2)
32.1
(89.8)
33.7
(92.7)
32.3
(90.1)
31.2
(88.2)
30.0
(86)
30.8
(87.4)
30.8
(87.4)
30.8
(87.4)
31.2
(88.2)
31.7
(89.1)
31.43
(88.57)
Average low °C (°F) 23.9
(75)
24.6
(76.3)
25.4
(77.7)
25.0
(77)
26.8
(80.2)
26.3
(79.3)
25.9
(78.6)
25.1
(77.2)
25.2
(77.4)
24.7
(76.5)
24.4
(75.9)
23.5
(74.3)
25.07
(77.12)
Average precipitation mm (inches) 28.3
(1.114)
25.2
(0.992)
50.3
(1.98)
124.8
(4.913)
207.3
(8.161)
252.7
(9.949)
341.4
(13.441)
377.2
(14.85)
320.6
(12.622)
290.4
(11.433)
138.2
(5.441)
54.4
(2.142)
2,210.8
(87.038)
Source: world weather online[50]


Climate data for Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 31.3
(88.3)
32.2
(90)
34.1
(93.4)
35.7
(96.3)
34.3
(93.7)
33.2
(91.8)
32.0
(89.6)
32.8
(91)
32.8
(91)
31.8
(89.2)
30.2
(86.4)
30.7
(87.3)
32.59
(90.67)
Average low °C (°F) 23.9
(75)
23.6
(74.5)
25.4
(77.7)
26.0
(78.8)
26.8
(80.2)
26.3
(79.3)
26.9
(80.4)
25.1
(77.2)
25.2
(77.4)
25.7
(78.3)
24.4
(75.9)
23.5
(74.3)
25.23
(77.42)
Average precipitation mm (inches) 0.0
(0)
11.3
(0.445)
6.5
(0.256)
0.0
(0)
4.8
(0.189)
34.8
(1.37)
16.1
(0.634)
40.3
(1.587)
60.5
(2.382)
65.8
(2.591)
22.7
(0.894)
3.2
(0.126)
266
(10.474)
Source: world weather online[51]


Climate data for Senmonorom, Cambodia
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 26.0
(78.8)
27.0
(80.6)
25.0
(77)
19.0
(66.2)
25.0
(77)
25.0
(77)
27.0
(80.6)
25.0
(77)
24.0
(75.2)
25.0
(77)
24.0
(75.2)
27.0
(80.6)
24.9
(76.85)
Average low °C (°F) 14.0
(57.2)
13.0
(55.4)
17.0
(62.6)
13.0
(55.4)
18.0
(64.4)
19.0
(66.2)
20.0
(68)
19.0
(66.2)
18.0
(64.4)
18.0
(64.4)
16.0
(60.8)
15.0
(59)
16.7
(62)
Average precipitation mm (inches) 30.0
(1.181)
48.0
(1.89)
21.0
(0.827)
144.0
(5.669)
90.0
(3.543)
114.0
(4.488)
282.0
(11.102)
555.0
(21.85)
192.0
(7.559)
234.0
(9.213)
129.0
(5.079)
39.0
(1.535)
1,878
(73.936)
Source: world weather online[51]

Hydrology[edit]

floating homes on the Mekong
Mekong tributary, Stung Treng Province

The central Tonle Sap - Great Lake has several input rivers, the most important being the Tonle Sap river during the rainy season, which contributes 62 percent of the total water supply. The other rivers in the sub-basin and direct rainfall on the lake contribute the remaining 38 percent. Other major rivers are the Sen river, Sreng river, Pursat (Pouthisat) river, Sisophon river, Mongkul Borey river, and Sangker river.[52][53]

Except for the smaller rivers in the southeast, most of the major rivers and river systems in Cambodia drain into the Tonle Sap or into the Mekong River. The Cardamom Mountains and Elephant Range form a separate drainage divide. To the east the rivers flow into the Tonle Sap, while on the west they flow into the Gulf of Thailand. Toward the southern end of the Elephant Mountains, small rivers flow southward on the eastern side of the divide.

The Mekong River in Cambodia flows southward from the Cambodia-Laos border to a point below Kratie city, where it turns west for about 50 kilometers and then turns southwest to Phnom Penh. Extensive rapids run above Kratie city. From Kampong Cham Province the gradient slopes very gently, and inundation of areas along the river occurs at flood stage—June through November—through breaks in the natural levees that have built up along its course. At Phnom Penh four major water courses meet at a point called the Chattomukh (Four Faces). The Mekong River flows in from the northeast and the Tonle Sap, a river emanating from the Tonle Sap—flows in from the northwest. They divide into two parallel channels, the Mekong River proper and the Bassac River, and flow independently through the delta areas of Cambodia and Vietnam to the South China Sea.

The flow of water into the Tonle Sap is seasonal. In September or in October, the flow of the Mekong River, fed by monsoon rains, increases to a point where its outlets through the delta cannot handle the enormous volume of water. At this point, the water pushes northward up the Tonle Sab and empties into the Tonle Sap, thereby increasing the size of the lake from about 2,590 square kilometers to about 24,605 square kilometers at the height of the flooding. After the Mekong's waters crest—when its downstream channels can handle the volume of water—the flow reverses, and water flows out of the engorged lake.

As the level of the Tonle Sap retreats, it deposits a new layer of sediment. The annual flooding, combined with poor drainage immediately around the lake, transforms the surrounding area into marshlands unusable for agricultural purposes during the dry season. The sediment deposited into the lake during the Mekong's flood stage appears to be greater than the quantity carried away later by the Tonle Sap River. Gradual silting of the lake would seem to be occurring; during low-water level, it is only about 1.5 meters deep, while at flood stage it is between 10 and 15 meters deep.

Vegetation & Eco Regions[edit]

map of forests, vegetation and land use in Cambodia

Cambodia still has one of the highest levels of forest cover as the interdependence of Cambodia’s geography and hydrology makes it rich in natural resources and biological diversity - among the bio-richest countries in Southeast Asia. The Royal Government of Cambodia estimates Cambodia contains approximately 10.36 million hectares of forest cover, representing approximately 57.07% of Cambodia’s land area in 2011.[54] On the other hand, international observers and independent sources provide much more pessimistic numbers and highlight the fact, that deforestation, loss of seasonal wetlands and habitat destruction correlates - among countless other factors - with the absence of strict administrative control and indifferent law enforcers - not only in Cambodia but the entire region.[55][56][57]

Figures and assessments are as numerous as available sources, as seen in numbers below, which provide a wide range for interpretation. About 69,000 ha (1%) of forest cover is planted forest. Overall Cambodia’s forests contain an estimated 464 million metric tonnes of carbon stock in living forest biomass.[58] Approximately 40% of Cambodia’s Forests have some level of protection, while one of the Cambodia Millennium Development Goals targets is to achieve a 60% forest cover by 2015.[59][60]

According to the Forestry Administration statistics, a total of 380,000 hectares of forest were cleared between 2002 and 2005/2006, resulting in a deforestation rate of 0.5% per year. Evidence suggests that the main driver of deforestation is currently large-scale agro-industrial expansions.[61][62]

Cambodia Forest Cover, 2002
Forest Types Area (ha) Percentage
Evergreen Forest 3,720,506 20.49
Semi-evergreen forest 1,455,190 8.01
Deciduous forest 4,833,861 26.62
Other forest 1,094,726 6.03
Non-forest 7,056,388 38.85
Source: Global Environment Outlook[63]

Southern Annamites Montane Rain Forests ecoregion[edit]

The Southern Annamites Montane Rain Forests ecoregion in the remote montane forests of Kontuey Nea, "the dragon's tail" in the extreme northwest of Cambodia, where the boundaries of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam meet, is comparatively abundant in its biodiversity. The relatively intact forests of the region cover a broad topographic range from lowlands with wet evergreen forests to montane habitats with evergreen hardwood and conifer forests. The complex geological, topographic and climatic gradients present in the region make forest structure and composition unique but very variable. Strong climatic variants of rainfall and temperature are present here. Of the many species to be found in the area, there are unusually high numbers of near-endemic and endemic specirs.[64]

The great lake ecosystem[edit]

The Tonle Sap, also known as the Great Lake in central Cambodia is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and one of the richest inland fishing grounds in the world. The ecosystem has developed as a result of the Mekong’s seasonal flow fluctuations. The region represents the agricultural and demographic heart of Cambodia and the center of the national freshwater fishery industry. A belt of freshwater mangroves known as the "flooded forest" surrounds the lake. The floodplains are surrounded by low hills, covered with evergreen or deciduous dry forest. The dry forest eco-region consists of a mosaic of habitats. The main forest type is deciduous, dipterocarp forest.[65] This gradually changes to bushes and finally grassland with increasing distance from the lake.

On higher quality soils or at higher elevation, areas of mixed deciduous forest and semi-evergreen forests[66] occur. This mosaic of forest types is one of the reasons for the quantity and diversity of species of this eco-system. The diverse forest patches provide the many facets and refugiae for the abundant local wildlife.[67][68]

The lake’s flooded forest and the surrounding floodplains are of central importance for Cambodia's agriculture, in particular the freshwater fisheries.[69] Threats to the lake include widespread pollution, stress through growth of the local population which is dependent on the lake for subsistence and livelihood, over-harvesting of fish and other aquatic - often endangered - species, habitat destruction and potential changes in the hydrology, such as the construction and operation of dams, that disrupt the lake's natural flood cycle. However, concerns that the lake is rapidly filling with sediment seem to be unfounded at the present time.[70]

Wetlands[edit]

Wetlands cover more than 30 per cent of Cambodia. In addition to the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap floodplain there are the Stung Sen River and the coastal Stung Koh Pao - and Stung Kep estuaries of Koh Kong Province and Kep Province. The freshwater wetlands of Cambodia represent one of the most diverse ecosystems worldwide.[71] The area’s extensive wetland habitats are the product of the annual Mekong maximum, the simultaneous wet season and the drainage paths of a number of minor rivers. See also:Geography of Cambodia#Hydrology The numerous and varied wetlands are Cambodia's central and traditional settlement area, the productive environments for rice cultivation, freshwater fisheries, other forms of agriculture and aquaculture and the constantly growing tourism sector.[72] Considering the eco-region's importance, a variety of plans for local wetland management consolidation exist[73][74] with varying degrees of completion.[75]

Coastal habitats[edit]

mangrove forests in Koh Kong Province Cambodia, September 2013

The Cambodian coastline consists of 60 000 ha of some 30 species of mangroves - among the most biologically diverse wetlands on earth.[76] The most pristine mangrove forests are found in Koh Kong Province. In addition to mangroves, sea-grass beds extend throughout the coastal areas, especially in Kampot Province, the Prek Kompong Saom Bay Delta and Kep municipal waters.[77][78]

"With their roots deep in mud, jagged and gnarled mangrove trees are able to grow in the brackish wetlands between land and sea where other plant life cannot survive. The trees offer refuge and nursery grounds for fish, crabs, shrimp, and mollusks. They are nesting and migratory sites for hundreds of bird species. They also provide homes for monkeys, lizards, sea turtles, and many other animals as well as countless insects. "[76]

"Until relatively recently, the mangroves of Koh Kong, Cambodia have remained relatively intact. This is partly because of the region’s location — it is an isolated, inaccessible place — and because decades of war and conflict perversely protected the forests from overexploitation. Local people, however, tended to use the forests sustainably, for food, fuel, medicine, building materials, and other basic needs. "[76]

Fauna[edit]

the endangered Agile gibbon
Main article: Wildlife of Cambodia

Cambodia is home to a wide array of wildlife. There are 212 mammal species, 536 bird species, 176 reptile species (including 89 subspecies), 850 freshwater fish species (Tonlé Sap Lake area), and 435 marine fish species. Many of the country's species are recognized by the IUCN or World Conservation Union as threatened, endangered, or critically endangered due to deforestation and habitat destruction, poaching, illegal wildlife trade, farming, fishing, and unauthorized forestry concessions. Intensive poaching may have already driven Cambodia's national animal, the Kouprey, to extinction. Wild tigers, Eld's deer, wild water buffaloes and hog deer are at critically low numbers.[79][80][81]

Protected Areas[edit]

"The 1993 Royal Decree on the Protection of Natural Areas recognized 23 protected areas, which at the time covered more than 18% of the country’s total land area."[82]

  • natural parks (sometimes described as ‘national parks’)
  • wildlife preserves
  • protected scenic view areas (sometimes described as ‘protected landscapes’)
  • multi-purpose areas.

Political and human geography[edit]

Flag of Cambodia.svg
Life in Cambodia

Cambodia borders Vietnam over a length of 1,228 km, Thailand over a length of 803 km and Laos over a length of 541 km, with 2,572 km in total and an additional 443 km of coastline. The capital (reach thani) and provinces (khaet) of Cambodia are first-level administrative divisions. Cambodia is divided into 25 provinces including the capital.

Municipalities and districts are the second-level administrative divisions of Cambodia. The provinces are subdivided into 159 districts and 26 municipalities. The districts and municipalities in turn are further divided into communes (khum) and quarters (sangkat).[83]

Land Use[edit]

Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam have experienced major changes in land use and land cover over the last two decades. The emergence from cold war rivalries and recent major economic reforms result in a shift from subsistence agrarian modes of production to market-based agricultural production and industrialized economies, which are heavily integrated into regional and global trade systems.[84]

Land Use in Cambodia - Sources: World Bank,[85] FAO[86] UN[87]
1990 2000 2002 2010
Agricultural land (km2) in Cambodia 44550.0 47700.0
Agricultural land (% of land area) in Cambodia 25.2 27.0 23.0
Arable land (hectares) in Cambodia 3695000.0 3700000.0
Arable land (hectares per person) in Cambodia 0.4 0.3
Arable land (% of land area) in Cambodia 20.9 21.0
Permanent cropland (% of land area) in Cambodia 0.6 0.8
Forest area (km2) in Cambodia 129460.0 115460.0 100940.0
Forest area (% of land area) in Cambodia 73.3 65.4 54.0 57.2

Regional divisions[edit]

Cambodia's boundaries were for the most part based upon those recognized by France and by neighboring countries during the colonial period. The 800-kilometer boundary with Thailand runs along the watershed of the Dangrek Mountains, although only in its northern sector. The 541-kilometer border with Laos and the 1,228-kilometer border with Vietnam result from French administrative decisions and do not follow major natural features. Border disputes have broken out in the past between Cambodia and Thailand as well as between Cambodia and Vietnam.[88][89]

Provincial Boundaries in Cambodia.svg
Number Province Capital Area (km²) Population
1 Banteay Meanchey Sisophon 6,679 678,033
2 Battambang Battambang 11,702 1,036,523
3 Kampong Cham Kampong Cham 4,549 1,010,098
4 Kampong Chhnang Kampong Chhnang 5,521 472,616
5 Kampong Speu Kampong Speu 7,017 718,008
6 Kampong Thom Kampong Thom 13,814 908,398
7 Kampot Kampot 4,873 585,110
8 Kandal Ta Khmao 3,568 1,265,805
9 Kep Krong Kep 336 80,208
10 Koh Kong Koh Kong 11,160 139,722
11 Kratié Kratié 11,094 318,523
12 Mondulkiri Senmonorom 14,288 60,811
13 Oddar Meanchey Samraong 6,158 185,443
14 Pailin Pailin 803 70,482
15 Phnom Penh Phnom Penh 758 2,234,566
16 Sihanoukville Province Sihanoukville 2,536.68 199,902
17 Preah Vihear Tbeng Meanchey 13,788 170,852
18 Pursat Pursat 12,692 397,107
19 Prey Veng Prey Veng 4,883 947,357
20 Ratanakiri Banlung 10,782 567,459
21 Siem Reap Siem Reap 10,229 1,000,309
22 Stung Treng Stung Treng 11,092 111,734
23 Svay Rieng Svay Rieng 2,966 498,785
24 Takéo Takéo 3,563 843,931
25 Tbong Khmum[90] Tbong Khmum 4,928 754,000

Area and boundaries[edit]

Area:
total: 181,035 km²
land: 176,515 km²
water: 4,520 km²

Maritime claims:
territorial sea: 12 nmi (13.8 mi; 22.2 km)
contiguous zone: 24 nmi (27.6 mi; 44.4 km)
exclusive economic zone: 200 nmi (230.2 mi; 370.4 km)
continental shelf: 200 nmi (230.2 mi; 370.4 km)

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Gulf of Thailand 0 m
highest point: Phnum Aoral 1,810 m

Border disputes

Lakes

Natural Resources[edit]

  • oil and natural gas - In addition to the four parts of mining project, the oilfield, Block A was discovered in 2005 and located 200 km offshore in the gulf of Thailand Chevron would operate and hold a 30% interest Block A which cover 4,079 km2 . It is expected to get 30-year-production permit in the second quarter of 2011
  • timber
 Dipterocarpus alatus (chheuteal tan) Sawnwood, veneer, plywood
  Anisoptera glabra (mersawa, phdiek) Sawnwood, veneer, plywood
 Hopea odorata (koki) Sawmilling, construction (bridges, boats)
 Shorea vulgaris (choë(r) chông) Sawmilling, construction (housing)
 Tarrietia javanica Sawnwood (decorative, furniture)[91]
  • gemstones - Gemstone areas are located in Samlot district of Battambang, Paillin, Ratanakkiri, and Takeo Province
  • iron ore - Hermatite (Fe203); Magnetite (Fe304); Limonite (2Fe203, 3H2O) - was found in two areas, one located in Phnom Deck and the others located in Koh Keo of Preah Vihear Province, and Thalaborivath of Stung Treng Province. According to General Department of Mineral, the total iron reserves in Phnom Deck area are estimated at 5-6 million tons and other deposits may add 2-3 million tons.
  • gold - Gold deposit was found in four provinces: Kampong Cham (The Rumchek in Memot area), Kampong Thom (Phnom Chi area), Preah Vihear (Phnom Deck in Roveing district), Ratanakiri (Oyadav district) and Mondulkiri
  • Bauxite – was found in Battambang Province and Chhlong district in Mondulkiri Province.
  • Antimony (Sb) – found in Sre Peang area, Pursat Province
  • Chromium (Cr) – found in Sre Peang area, Pursat Province
  • manganese
  • phosphates
  • hydro-power - Hydroelectric dams: Lower Se San 2 Dam, Stung Treng Dam
  • arable land
  • Marine resoures[92][93]

Total renewable water resources:

  • 476.1 km3 (114.22 cu mi) (2011)

Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural):

  • total: 2.18 km3 or 0.523 cu mi/yr (4%/2%/94%)
  • per capita: 159.8 km3 or 38.3 cu mi/yr (2006)

Environmental issues[edit]

unauthorized sand mining at the Tatai River in the Koh Kong Conservation Corridor, Cambodia 2012
polluted estuary near Ream commune in Sihanoukville province, Cambodia 2014

Natural hazards[edit]

  • monsoonal rains (June to November)
  • Mekong flooding;
  • occasional droughts

Human impact[edit]

"Environmental and natural resources (ENR) in Cambodia are threatened by short-sighted over-exploitation on an increasing and threatening scale. This reduces the Country’s overall natural capital, yet whilst great benefits flow to the few; equally great burdens fall on the many."[94]

Issues

  • Illegal logging activities throughout the country[95]
  • rubber tree mono-cultures and strip mining for gold in the eastern highlands
  • gem mining in the western region along the border with Thailand[96]
  • destruction of mangrove swamps threatens natural fisheries, illegal fishing and over-fishing[97]
  • large scale sand mining in river beds and estuaries of Koh Kong's mangrove marshes affects tidal balance[98]

Consequences

  • deforestation
  • soil erosion in rural areas
  • declining fish stocks
  • decreasing access to clean water
  • habitat loss and declining biodiversity

International agreements and conventions[edit]

party to:

signed, but not ratified:

See also[edit]

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External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]