International Crane Foundation

Mekong River

Mekong River Conservation Story

Mekong River

Mekong River

Can baskets help protect Sarus Cranes in the Mekong Delta? In Vietnam, ICF is working with local villagers to develop baskets and other products made from wetland reeds, which provide much needed income and an economic incentive to protect the wetlands needed by cranes and other wildlife.

This community project, along with long-term wetland restoration activities and training for a new generation of wetland managers, are models for crane conservation in Southeast Asia and around the world.


ICF in Action

ICF has worked in the Mekong River delta since the 1980s. Our first project was at Tram Chim, Vietnam, which, at the time, was home to the only known population of Sarus Cranes in Southeast Asia. This large floodplain had been damaged by canals dug during the Vietnam War and then expanded during the period of intensive agricultural development that followed. With remnant plant and animal populations still existing, the goal for Tram Chim was to restore the wetlands by re-establishing the natural hydrology. In part because of ICF’s support and commitment to this area, Tram Chim became a national park. Now hundreds of native species are flourishing, including cranes and other wildlife.

One lesson from our work at Tram Chim is that conservation activities must address the needs of both people and wildlife. ICF is using this and other lessons from Tram Chim in a community project at Phu My, a remote village in western Vietnam. The villager’s centuries-old tradition of harvesting reeds from native wetlands for weaving mats was threatened by shrimp pond development. Shrimp ponds, even though harmful to the wetland, were a lucrative business relative to mat weaving. To encourage a sustainable model of wetland use, ICF purchased equipment and trained people to convert their weaving expertise into a more profitable business that exported woven products of higher retail value. Since the project began, incomes of families in Phu My have tripled, giving them real alternatives to shrimp pond development. The wetland at Phu My is now more secure, and Phu My products are available worldwide.


Phu My products

Purses and baskets made from wetland reeds in Phu My, Vietnam.



The Way Forward

Wetland restoration and community development projects take time – even decades – to become truly sustainable. Since we still have important work to continue at Tram Chim and Phu My, how do we develop new activities if each project takes so long to succeed? Our answer has been to establish a training program in wetland ecology and management for students and professionals of the Mekong Basin and, at the same time, build the capacity of universities within the region to teach these subjects. Working with eight founding institutions, ICF has created the University Network of Southeast Asia. Over the past eight years, this network has grown to include 18 member universities and has trained 186 students in wetland management.

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“One lesson from our work at Tram Chim is that conservation activities must address the needs of both people and wildlife.” 


Training course

University Network of Southeast Asia wetland training course.