|People power: Local people and volunteers collect rubbish along the beaches of Sơn Trà Peninsula in central Đà Nẵng City. Photo danang.vn
The Việt Nam Tourism Administration’s Institute for Tourism Development Research (ITDR) recently reported that Việt Nam’s coastal areas annually welcome around 80 per cent of international visitors and 50 per cent of domestic tourists, bringing in 70 per cent of revenue for the national tourism industry.
The country’s more than 1 million square kilometres of sea surface, over 2,770 islands, and a range of beaches from north to south with different characteristics promise vast benefits for the maritime economy.
Among the large number of beauty spots are some world-famous beaches and bays that attract foreign visitors every year. Sites such as Hạ Long Bay in the northern province of Quảng Ninh - a World Natural Heritage recognised by United Nations cultural agency UNESCO since 1994 and one of New Seven Natural Wonders of the world since 2012, Nha Trang Bay in the central province of Khánh Hòa, and Đà Nẵng Beach in Quảng Nam Province, are all consistent hotspots for tourists.
However, the ITDR report warned that a rapid increase in marine pollution was hindering the development of the vastly lucrative industry.
The report said the situation could get worse if there were not intensive and immediate solutions put forward.
Sources of pollution
Professor Phan Trung Lương, an ITDR expert on sea tourism development told Việt Nam News that it was extremely important to identify the sources of pollution before taking any measures to cope with them.
Lương stressed the sea’s natural function of self-cleaning, saying that if pollution stood at a certain level, the sea itself could clean it up.
However, the professor added, such a function only worked on a limited level, and if the pollution becomes too much, the sea would be unable to solve it.
Lương said sea pollution may have taken place for many years in Việt Nam, until the case of mass fish death was revealed in April stirring public angers. Caused by a toxic spill from Taiwanese Hưng Nghiệp Formosa Hà Tĩnh Steel Co. Ltd, the pollution became a hot topic of debate at many government and scientific meetings and workshops.
According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE), the main reasons for the increased marine pollution are unsustainable industrial development and uncontrolled aquaculture production.
Consistent increases in population, along with inadequate education and shortcomings in legal system and policies were also added to the sea pollution.
The ministry revealed in its recent investigation that between 70 and 80 per cent of waste at sea was derived from land-based sources, while untreated wastewater and solid waste from factories, industrial parks, and residential areas were discharged into rivers near coastal areas or directly into the sea.
The use of explosives or toxic chemicals in offshore fishing was quickly depleting fishery resources, leading to severe consequences for the marine eco-system.
Moreover, the MoNRE blamed the spontaneous spread of tourism for impacting the ecological environment and natural landscapes of the sea.
The ministry presented an example by citing what happened to Cát Bà National Park in Cát Bà Island off Quảng Ninh Province.
The island, with a total of 5,400ha of water surface, had turned from a very clean and clear environment into a heavily polluted island since it opened the national park for tourism activities and planned to boost aquaculture breeding there.
Thousands of tonnes of waste from the island’s tourist resorts, hotels, and motels were directly discharged into the sea every day, the MoNRE investigators said.
One more major cause of marine pollution, last but not least, was oil spills resulting from incidents of wrecked ships sailing offshore, or those in exploratory drilling activities of oil and gas at sea.
Notably, the ministry said, serious oil spills in recent years tended to be increasing, causing serious damage to the marine environment, especially fisheries.
While the operation of hundreds of oil and gas wells was releasing a large amount of waste water with oil, it was also generating 5,600 tonnes of waste oil, of which about 20 to 30 per cent was hazardous solid waste.
Every year, more than 100 rivers across the country not only bring about 880 cubic kilometres of water, and some 270-300 million tonnes of alluvia to the sea, but also brought huge amounts of heavy metals and toxic chemical substances discharged from industrial zones and urban areas that can pollute the marine environment and damage aquaculture and agricultural production.
As the sea tourism industry depends entirely on the environment, any changes directly impact the quality of tourism products and the efficiency of the tourism economy.
According to the Institute of Fisheries Economics and Planning, untreated waste continuously discharged into the river basin and sea would harm the sea environment and negatively influence the development of the tourism sector.
The institute revealed an estimated increase of nitrogen and ammonia respectively, from 26 tonnes at present to 52 tonnes, and 15 to 30 tonnes daily accumulating at sea by 2020.
This was very dangerous for the sea environment, it said.
Nguyễn Tuấn Dũng, an expert from the Military Academy of Logistics, under the Ministry of Defence, said marine tourism had brought opportunities to localities, improving the lives of people in coastal areas and helping to implement hunger elimination and poverty reduction programmes.
Statistics from the Việt Nam Tourism Administration recently showed a total of 1,400 guest houses and three-star hotels located near the coastline, creating jobs for nearly 60,000 local labourers.
Việt Nam’s sea tourism can be divided into two parts: the first from Sầm Sơn beach in the northern province of Thanh Hóa to Thừa Thiên-Huế, and the second from Đà Nẵng City in central Quảng Nam Province to southern Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu Province.
Each part has its own characteristics, and thus needs distinct priorities to develop local tourism products based on its local natural geological potential and resources.
Based on the overall orientation of tourism development from now to 2020, Việt Nam targets to develop five key areas with high regional competitiveness. The five areas are Hạ Long - Cát Bà in Quảng Ninh Province; Lăng Cô-Sơn Trà-Hội An in Thừa Thiên-Huế Province, Đà Nẵng City and Qủang Nam Province; Nha Trang - Cam Ranh in Khánh Hòa Province; Phan Thiết - Mũi Né in Bình Thuận Province and Phú Quốc Resort Island in Kiên Giang Province.
The country will also focus investment on other high potential sea tourism areas, including Vân Đồn – Cô Tô in Quảng Ninh Province and the Trường Sa (Spratly) Archipelago in the East Sea.
According to Dũng, to achieve sustainable development for the tourism industry, Việt Nam needs to immediately solve the issue of pollution, both in coastal areas and at sea.
“Only by doing that will the country be able to improve the attractiveness of its sea tourism products,” he said.
Dũng said the immediate targets should include a focus on market research to set up relevant market-orientated plans for the development of sea tourism products.
Ministries, departments and authorised agencies should intensify a close collaboration with provincial authorities, take effective and timely measures to cope with any pollution emergencies such as the mass fish deaths, oil spills, and discharge of untreated industrial waste so that the impact on sea tourism is limited.
Authorities and local residents along coastal areas should collaborate in organising regular activities to clean the beach, and collect and treat waste on shore.
They should mobilise all forces in supervising the sea environment and preventing all violations of the law on sea protection, including the dumping of solid waste, and use of explosives in fishing.
A boost to develop all types of local eco-tourism should also be among the key targets of local socio-economic development as a way to improve awareness on the importance of sea environment protection, the expert said.
More surveys should be conducted in the north central region, with the aim to promote local tourism products including spiritual, discovery, and adventure tourism, and to replace sea tourism as a way to limit the impact of tourism on the sea environment.
Financial aid including credit loans and debt freezing should be offered to local people who suffer because of environmental damage, to help them stabilise their livelihoods and production.
“This is considered the basis for the maintenance of local security and political stability to help attract more tourists,” said Dũng
Meanwhile, Prof. Lương said resolving sea pollution in Việt Nam completely depended on the determination of the authorities at all levels particularly local people.
"We should not just say, but act immediately," said Lương.
The expert suggested authorities of all sectors should "sit down together" and clarify which were the priorities and key tasks in solving environmental pollution.
"Task forces should be set up for each sector to confront sea pollution, and they should keep in close contact with each other in any emergency cases," said Lương.