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Kayak adventurer warns of threat to Mekong -

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Kayak adventurer warns of threat to Mekong

Reporter: Nick Grimm

KERRY O'BRIEN: Now to the young Australian who conquered one of the world's great rivers in a
kayak. Mick O'Shea became the first person to navigate South East Asia's mighty Mekong River from
its source in the Himalayas to the sea, paddling almost 5,000 kilometres. Now, after writing a book
and producing a documentary about his adventure, Mick O'Shea is also trying to warn the world that
the river, along with the livelihoods of millions of people, is under threat from a Chinese mega
dam project. Nick Grimm reports.

MICK O'SHEA: I love living life on the edge. I'm a pretty adventurous sort of person. I always have
been. I've done a lot of things in Asia that most people don't get around to.

PROF RALF BUCKLEY, GRIFFITH UNIVERSITY: To be the first to run one of the big rivers of the world
with high volume water and difficult rapids, that's quite an achievement.

NICK GRIMM: In a world where it seems there are few "firsts" left to be accomplished, Mick O'Shea
has become the first person to navigate the Mekong River from its source high in the Himalayas in
the disputed Chinese territory of Tibet. After leaving China the river crosses Burma, Laos,
Cambodia and Vietnam to finally reach the South China Sea, 500 kilometres downstream.

MICK O'SHEA: Mekong is one of the most diverse rivers in the world, one of the most diverse natural
and cultural landscapes in the world.

NICK GRIMM: It's a journey, too, that few will get the chance to follow, given that a river that's
remained unchanged for millennia is now threatened and its course set to be forever altered by
China's unstoppable economic growth.

ADJ PROF MILTON OSBOURNE, ANU: Some time in the future as the result of the number of dams the
Chinese Government is building on the Mekong, we are going to see very serious effects on the
downstream countries.

NICK GRIMM: So, Mick O'Shea's is more than just an adventure story, it's also an environmental
distress call.

ASSOC PROF PHILIP HIRSCH: If you start tampering with the environment, it's not just an aesthetic
issue, but a life and death issue.

MICK O'SHEA (VIDEO): The joys of the Mekong descent, paddling in the snow. Not a big fan of
paddling in the snow, but the river won't rise too much while it is snowing.

NICK GRIMM: Mick O'Shea's own odyssey began in 2004 at a semi frozen trickle of water in the snow
and ended in the South China Sea after 142 days of paddling.

MICK O'SHEA: There was at least 2.5 million paddle strokes, we estimate, so I was pretty ripped by
the time I finished that trick.

NICK GRIMM: Obtaining permission from China to visit the region was just the first obstacle.

RALF BUCKLEY: We are talking about one of the most remote bits of the globe in terms of Western
access.

NICK GRIMM: Ralf Buckley is the Director of the International Centre for Ecotourism Research at
Griffith University and a devoted white water river explorer himself. In fact, he was part of an
international expedition that itself tried to kayak down the Mekong's wild water but was beaten by
the tough conditions.

MICK O'SHEA: Huge gorges several kilometres deep, three or four times as deep as the Colorado Grand
Canyon, steep sided, big water, monsoon flows, huge gnarly rapids and Mick ran that section shortly
after we had taken off. He certainly said that it was the most difficult part of the trip and we
believe him.

MICK O'SHEA: What can happen is you get to a point where you can't go forward and it is almost
impossible to go back. So we spent the last three hours here trying to find a way to walk around
this gorge and it's not really happening.

I thought, I don't want to be here anymore, but I was stuck there and I had to take on that rapid
to get out and lots of other rapids after that.

NICK GRIMM: It was to the horror of locals there who somewhat sensibly keep well away from the
river. Fortunately they didn't avoid Mick O'Shea when the freezing water triggered hypothermia.

(TRANSLATION): I was asleep upstairs and I heard someone knocking at the door. When I opened it
Mick was there and he looked very white like he was in shock from the cold.

MICK O'SHEA: If she didn't let me into her house and help me out I'm not sure I would have made it
through the night.

MICK O'SHEA: This film was shot over the course of 142 days on the Mekong Basin.

NICK GRIMM: Back in Australia with his expedition well behind him, Mick O'Shea has been busy
launching his book and documentary which has been shortlisted at Canada's prestigious Banff Film
Festival. But the adventurer hopes his story will trigger international condemnation of China's
plans to build a series of mega dams across the Mekong.

PHILIP HIRSCH: One of those currently under construction is this Leow Wan Dam which is to be 300
metres tall. That's higher than our Centrepoint Tower. It's as high as the Eiffel Tower and it's on
the main stream itself.

NICK GRIMM: How does it make you feel that not only might you be the first man to go through parts
of this river, you could also be the last?

MICK O'SHEA: Yeah, it is pretty tragic. It was quite a bizarre experience for me to paddle day
after day after day for weeks and realise that nearly everything I paddled through, there's about
650kms of the Chinese Mekong that's going to be flooded under reservoirs.

NICK GRIMM: And as Mick O'Shea also discovered, the impact of the dams won't be limited to the
Chinese peasants flooded out of their homes. There could also be an ecological disaster in the
making, with 60, 70 million people living downstream of the dams in danger of losing their major
source of food.

MILTON OSBOURNE: The Chinese in this regard have shown very little, if any, inclination to look to
the concerns of the downstream countries.

NICK GRIMM: The 7:30 Report approached the Chinese Embassy in Canberra for a response to criticism
that its dams would cause fish stocks in the Mekong Basin to plummet and starve rice crops of the
nutrients deposited in river silt. We were provided with a statement denying that the dams will
produce any adverse impact on the downriver countries, but it will make an important contribution
in anti flood preparation and the protection of human lives and properties. Mick O'Shea believes
that China must do more.

MICK O'SHEA: I guess the point I'm making more than anything is if China is going to make tens of
billions of dollars out of compromising a natural resource which is shared by millions of people,
they need to ensure that some of its profit goes into limiting the negative impacts on those
people.

NICK GRIMM: Mick O'Shea has only been back in Australia briefly to spread the word about a natural
wonder he believes is under threat.

MICK O'SHEA: I wanted to help get the word out there on behalf of those people that we should be
more aware and concerned about the subsistence resource rights of the world's more vulnerable
peoples.