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Vietnam: Cham Islands protect biodiversity while flourishing with eco-tourism

Viet Nam News

Staff from the Cham Islands Marine Protected Area Management board check coral reef development in waters off the islands.

By Cong Thanh / Viet Nam NewsLocal fisherman Huynh Tan Loc now earns his living mostly from home-stay and food services or night-fishing on a boat rather than regular fishing.

Loc, 56, and his wife can earn 350,000 dong ($15) per night from renting out a room, excluding food, motorbike and boat rental, or a local guide.

“My income from fishing had been unstable for 20 years, so I turned to tourism services as I needed to retire from fishing,” Loc said.

“I was born a fisherman, and now I use that experience from the traditional trade to serve tourists,” he said.

The islander’s education and communication of protecting the marine environment and cleaning the ocean help the local community improve their awareness of protection.

“I can earn $15 per night and 70,000 dong [$3] for food from each tourist,” Loc said.

“Boat trips and motorbike rentals add to my income as many tourists have been flocking to the islands in recent years. My knowledge of marine species and the ocean help me act as a local guide for tourists as well,” he said.

Marine protection

The Cham Islands-Hoi An World Biosphere Reserve, which covers over 33,000 hectares including the ancient town of Hoi An, has 1,500 hectares of tropical forests and 6,700 hectares of sea featuring a wide range of fauna and flora.

The islands, which include eight islets with 2,400 inhabitants, have been one of the most popular destinations in Quang Nam Province since UNESCO recognized Hoi An ancient town and the My Son Sanctuary as World Heritage Sites.

A report has revealed that more than 80 percent of the population have switched from fishing to the eco-tourism sector and doubled the income per capita to 42 million dong ($1,800).

The islands are the only location in Vietnam promoting the non-use of plastic bags and the “3Rs” (reduce, reuse and recycle) programs since 2011, as well as fighting over-fishing for decades.

The 2,400 inhabitants earned $3.6 million per year, 65 percent of which is from tourism and service.

Tran Hoan, a 53-year-old fisherman, initially protested the non-use plastic bag campaign in the Cham Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) in 2011.

But he then voluntarily joined a community-based team to prevent illegal and over-fishing activities.

“At first, we protested the ban on plastic bags because they were seen as the most convenient way of transporting food every day,” Hoan recalled.

“Now we all know that plastic bags have killed the coral reefs — a safe shelter for fish and other species. Islanders now use environmentally friendly packaging or reusable bags for their daily market trips,” he said.

The local community is continuing to protect the environment by promoting “Say no to single-use plastic cups and straws.”

Dr. Chu Manh Trinh from the MPA said islanders offered tourists hand-made paper packaging instead of nylon bags.

Fishermen have also set up teams to check for illegal fishing or pollution such as fishing by electric shock and netting small marine species.

Tourism presents challenges

Director of the MPA Centre Tran Thi Hong Thuy warned that booming mass tourism would result in over-exploited natural resources in the Cham Islands.

She said the islands hosted a mere 17,000 tourists in 2009, but about 400,000 visited in 2018.

“At least 33 hectares of the seaweed has been destroyed in the past decade due to over-fishing and mass tourism. About 102 hectares of forest — 10 percent of the total forest area on the islands — has also been cleared for the construction of roads and buildings,” she said. She said the islands regularly docked more than 700 boats in serving fishing and tourist transport.

Le Ngoc Thao, an expert from the MPA, pointed out that the Cham Islands-Hoi An biosphere reserve site would be threatened in the near future by fishing using electric shocking, pollution, lack of freshwater and rapid urbanization in the basin of the Thu Bon River.

He said 7 hectares of nipa palms in Hoi An itself, the Thu Bon River basin or in the transition area of the biosphere reserve was cleared to make way for Cua Dai Bridge.

“The bridge, which connects Hoi An and the districts of Duy Xuyen and Thang Binh as part of the area’s socio-economic development plan, cuts through a 40-hectare nipa palm forest, just 5 kilometers away from the ancient town of Hoi An,” Thao said, adding the forest remained a safe shelter for marine species and fish reproducing before migrating to waters of the Cham Islands,” he said.

Limits part of solutions

To promote biodiversity protection, the MPA and Hoi An will continue to allow only 3,000 tourists to visit the islands per day.

The strict control of mass tourism will help the marine ecological system recover for sustainable development.

Prof. Chu Hoi suggested afforestation and replanting nipa palms in the Thu Bon River basin as well as rejecting mass construction of beach hotels and resorts as well as sound management of waste and water would be key factors in supporting the sustainable development of the Cham Islands-Hoi reserve.

Prof. Nguyen Hoang Tri from the Man and the Biosphere Programme — an intergovernmental scientific program launched by UNESCO, said the islands should set a lower limit for the number of tourists to promote the sustainable development of the islands.

He said biodiversity protection and improving awareness among the community about environmental protection will be the key to building the islands into a national brand in the context of a community-based eco-tourism site rich in biodiversity.Speech

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