Presidential Letter to members of the Government of the Philippines concerning the impacts of development on critically endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins

17 October 2020


Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways

Bonifacio Drive, Port Area

Metro Manila, Philippines


Dear Secretary Villar,

As President of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, I write to express concern about the potential for the proposed Panay-Guimaras-Negros (PGN) Bridges Project to threaten the survival of a Critically Endangered population of Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) that resides in this region.[1] The Society for Marine Mammalogy is the world’s largest professional group dedicated to the study of marine mammals, with a membership of approximately 2,000 scientists from more than 35 countries. Our goal is to facilitate the understanding and conservation of marine mammals and the ecosystems that support them.

The Irrawaddy dolphin population in the Iloilo-Guimaras Straits is extremely small, with roughly 10-30 remaining individuals. The population’s core habitat is limited to the Pulupandan-Bago estuary and coastal waters of Buenavista. These dolphins are integral to the lives of fishermen in Iloilo, Guimaras, and Negros, who use the dolphins’ occurrence to indicate the locations of concentrations of fish and shrimp. The Iloilo-Guimaras Straits Irrawaddy dolphin population is one of only three known Philippine populations of this globally Endangered species (red-listed by the IUCN), each of them isolated from the others. The other two Philippine populations are in Malampaya Sound, Palawan (also red-listed by IUCN as Critically Endangered) and in coastal waters of Quezon.

Studies led by Philippine scientists indicate that the Pulupandan-Bago (on Negros) and Buenavista (on Guimaras) areas support relatively high densities of dolphins; the animals use these areas for feeding, nursing their young, and resting. I am concerned that the proposed construction at the entrances and exits of these bridges will damage and degrade vital habitat of these critically endangered dolphins and therefore I encourage you to construct the bridge outside habitat critical to the dolphins.

Ensuring that Irrawaddy dolphins survive in the Iloilo-Guimaras Straits will not only contribute to the conservation of global biodiversity, but will also help to preserve the natural heritage of the Ilonggo people.

Thank you for your kind attention to this matter. We would be pleased to offer our Society’s mmbers’ expertise should you need advice on the dolphin’s biology that will aide in locating the bridge to preserve dolphin critical habitat.


Charles Littnan

President, The Society for Marine Mammalogy


Here is a link to the letter that was sent.

Here is a link to a similar letter submitted by the IUCN.

More information on the status of the Irrawaddy Dolphin can be found here.


Additional Information on the PNG Bridges Projects:

There are two bridges that have been approved to connect the Islands of Panay, Guimaras, and Negros.

Bridge 1 – connecting Panay Island and Guimaras.  One of this bridge’s entrance/exit will be in Buenavista (Guimaras) and within Irrawaddy dolphin habitat. Construction is scheduled to start in 2021.





Bridge 2 – connecting Guimaras Island and Negros Island.  This touches the Pulupandan area of Irrawaddy habitat. This project was also supposed to start in 2021 but is being postponed for now because of an ongoing feasibility study.



The feasibility study done by the Chinese Highway Consulting firm on the engineering side has been completed and accepted by the Philippine government . For Bridge 2, it recommends the Pulupandan site to be the best site (  

Response to Presidential Letter Regarding Mekong Irrawaddy Dolphins

The Society received the following response to its Presidential Letter regarding the Don Sahong Dam and the future of river dolphins, including the critically endangered Mekong population of Irrawaddy dolphins from David B. Shear, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam on June 4, 2014:

Dear Ms. Marsh:

Thank you for your letter dated May 14, 2014. In response to your letter, I wanted to assure you that the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and the United States Government as a whole are focused on the conservation of marine mammals in Southeast Asia, and particularly the freshwater dolphins of the Mekong River.

With our colleagues throughout the United States Government, we have engaged in policy advocacy and technical capacity building to encourage the coutnries of the Mekong to consider the potential ecological impacts of hydropower adn other water infrastructure projects in the Mekong Basin.

The efforts of your organization play a critical role in our policy goals to protect these animals, and I want to take this opportunity to thank you and The Socity for Marine Mammalogy for your hard work on this issue. We look forward to workign with you on our shared goal in the future!


David B. Shear

View the response as a PDF

Letter to Myanmar Officials Regarding Irrawaddy Dolphins

Mr Thein Sein
President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar
President Office
Office 18
Nay Pyi daw,

Mr. U Ohn Myint,
Minister of Livestock and Fisheries

Mr. U Khin Maung Aye,
Deputy Minister of Livestock and Fisheries

Mr U Khin Ko Lay,
Director General of Livestock and Fisheries

Minister Office
Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries
Office No (36), Naypyitaw

Dear Sirs,

The Society for Marine Mammalogy is the largest professional group in the world dedicated to the study of marine mammals and consists of approximately 2,000 scientists from 60 countries. Its goal is to facilitate the understanding and conservation of marine mammals and their ecosystems.

I write to you as President of the Society concerning an article in the Myanmar Times (Battery fishing rise threatens unique dolphin cooperation, 6-12 August 2012;

This article describes a rapid increase in the use of electricity for catching fish in the Ayeyarwady River, which is seen as a threat to a Critically Endangered population of Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) ( and to the unique cooperative fishing by dolphins and local cast-net fishermen. Marine mammal scientists are particularly concerned about adding new threats because of most river dolphins and porpoises in Asia are already Critically Endangered and because of the recent extinction of the baiji (Yangtze River Dolphin).

I commend the Government of Myanmar for taking important actions to protect Irrawaddy dolphins and the human-dolphin cooperative fishery. As you are aware, in December 2005 the Department of Fisheries established a protected area for these dolphins in a 74-km segment of the Ayeyarwady River between Mingun and Kyaukmyaung. I note the conservation progress made in this Ayeyarwady Dolphin Protected Area with the adoption of a management plan and implementation of systematic patrols for educational outreach and enforcement together with the Wildlife Conservation Society. I understand that this sanctuary’s establishment also included a prohibition on the use of electricity to catch fish. The apparent increase in electric fishing suggests that activities to deal with this potential new threat likely need strengthening.

Society members have formed an ad hoc Mekong Dolphin Working Group to provide technical advice and support to the Cambodian Government and World Wildlife Fund – Cambodia, which are addressing conservation challenges similar to those you face with the same species of dolphins. This group includes experts from the United Kingdom, United States, China, Japan, Spain, and Canada. On behalf of the Society, I offer our technical assistance for conserving Myanmar’s critically endangered dolphin population in the Ayeyarwady River. These experts could, for example, suggest methods to monitor dolphin numbers and thereby evaluate the efficacy of efforts to reduce threats like electric fishing. If you agree, the Society could establish a working group to advise your government on the Ayeyarwady River dolphin population. I would be happy to put you in touch with the relevant individuals and to facilitate such a development if you would like.

I appreciate your support for Irrawaddy dolphin conservation and your understanding about the urgency to strengthen conservation actions to protect the dolphins in the Ayeyarwady. The Society of Marine Mammalogy is very willing to respond to an invitation to provide technical assistance if you consider this appropriate.

Yours sincerely,
Helene Marsh PhD, FTSE

President Society of Marine Mammalogy

Professor of Environmental Science
Dean of Graduate Research Studies
James Cook University
Townsville, 4811
phone: +61747815575

Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River of Cambodia

H. E Nao Thuok
Director General of Fisheries Administration
#186, Preah Norodom Blvd
Sangkat Tonle Bassac
Khan Chamcar Morn
P.O. Box 582 Phnom Penh

H. E Touch Seang Tana
Chairman of Commission for Conservation and Development of Mekong River
Dolphin Eco-tourism Zone
Office at the Council of Ministers
41 Russian Federation Boulevard, Sangkat Monorom, Khan 7 Makara,
Phnom Penh 12252

Dear Excellencies:

On behalf of the 1,963 scientist and student members of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, I would like to congratulate you on your approval of the “Kratie Declaration on the Conservation of the Mekong River Irrawaddy Dolphins,” signed on 12 January 2012, and your commitment to work together with the World Wide Fund for Nature to conserve Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River of Cambodia. As was clearly evident during my participation in the Mekong Irrawaddy Dolphin Conservation Workshop held in Kratie on 10-12 January 2012, this small, Critically Endangered (IUCN Red-List) subpopulation is an important part of Cambodia’s natural heritage, and it faces serious challenges to its continued survival.

In recognition of the urgent need for coordinated and sustained efforts to prevent the extinction of this subpopulation, the members of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, the largest association of marine/aquatic mammal scientists in the world, support you in recognizing and endorsing the findings and recommendations of the Workshop.

Randall Wells

Randall Wells, PhD