There is a great diversity of wetlands in Vietnam. The many varied species and habitat types in Vietnam form not only an impressive array of representative communities and habitats, but also serve as a foundation for human economic development and livelihood attainment for millions of Vietnamese people dependent on them. With an area of more than 10 million hectares, wetlands can be found in almost all ecological regions of the country. These wetlands play a vital role in the lives of the local people and the socio-economic development of the country.
Despite recent gains in agricultural production, approximately 30 million Vietnamese, or 37% of the population, continue to live in poverty; at the same time, the country faces a number of serious environmental problems. Natural resources have long been under stress from in-situ and off-site pressures, and wetlands remain undervalued by users, due in no small part to highly sectoral approaches to wetland management. Reclamation of wetlands for the expansion of rice production and other forms of environmental degradation are expected to increase in many areas, especially as agricultural and industrial activities intensify and expand. Simultaneously, many protected areas have become isolated ‘islands’, subject to large impacts and pressures from surrounding development.
The legislative framework in Vietnam provides a solid basis for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. However, the effective implementation of relevant legislation is frequently constrained by unclear and overlapping institutional jurisdictions, weak inter-agency cooperation and capacity limitations among government institutions charged with conserving the country's biodiversity.
At the central level, responsibility for biodiversity conservation does not lie with a single institution but is divided among several ministries, including the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE), the Ministry of Fisheries (MOF), and the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI). Various academic and technical institutions play important supporting roles, with regard to research, monitoring, technical advice or training. The police, customs and judiciary also have vital roles regarding the enforcement of conservation legislation. Biodiversity conservation is strongly decentralized at the provincial level, with each of the central line ministries is represented by a local line department. Operation of these line departments is coordinated by the relevant Provincial People’s Committee (PPC).
Decentralization presents some obstacles to the effective conservation of Vietnam’s biodiversity, not least in that it constrains the ability of central line ministries to impose management regulations in a consistent manner and with country-wide validity. However, decentralization also presents a number of opportunities. For instance, it enables PPCs to pilot innovative approaches that go beyond a strict interpretation of national regulations, such as community co-management of protected areas. Similarly, PPCs are well placed to facilitate coordination among local line departments with responsibility for natural resource management.
Geographical focus of WAP activities in Vietnam
Although there are numerous wetland ecosystems in Vietnam, the Wetlands Alliance focus it’s work on three different representative categories of wetlands for Vietnam, including estuarine wetlands in Nam Dinh in northern Vietnam, the lagoon system in central Vietnam (Qung Nam), and marine and estuarine wetlands in Kien Giang and Phou Quc in the Mekong Delta.
Phu Quoc Island lies in the Gulf of Thailand, about 40 km west of the Vietnamese mainland. Covering an area of 560 km2 Phu Quoc Island is the largest natural island in Vietnam. Renowned for its rich land and sea resources, Phu Quoc's coral reefs and diverse sea grass beds are nationally significant. In fact, with over 10,000 hectares of sea grass habitat, the Phu Quoc region displays the largest expanse of this key marine habitat in Vietnam, an area that provides a critical ecological role for the reproduction and development of many economically important marine species such as grouper, crab, seahorse and sea cucumbers. Phu Quoc's sea grass beds provide an important habitat for endangered or threatened species such as dugong, sea turtles and seahorse.
The Phu Quoc region hosts the busiest fishing grounds in Vietnam, with some 2,000 fishing vessels on the island and likely several times more this number using the region from other ports across the country. The main species harvested include anchovies (processed into fish sauce - or 'nuoc mem"), grouper, crab, squid, mackerel and various shellfish species. Fishing represents the most important source of income on the island, with the majority of the island's 80,000 people engaged either directly or indirectly in the fishing industry.
Over the past several years, the tourism sector in Phu Quoc has witnessed significant growth. In fact, Phu Quoc's development plan calls for the island to be prioritized as a "high standard eco-tourism destination" and indeed the future direction of Phu Quoc's economy has been clearly guided in policy and in actual development and investment to accommodate ambitious tourism targets.
Although the development plan outlines detailed goals for the tourism sector, including a four-fold expansion in the number of tourists by 2015, there is little detail on the environmental and socio-economic impacts of such rapid tourism development. There is little evidence of any comprehensive impact assessment being conducted or planned for either the master plan, or any of the individual resorts or other projects recently completed or newly underway. Similarly, although communities are often mentioned in tourism plans and strategies as beneficiaries of the new era of tourism in Phu Quoc, there is little indication that local communities targeted for tourism expansion, including the poorest of Phu Quoc's fishing villages, have had much direct involvement in these decisions or have a clear idea of what sorts of benefits can be derived. Meanwhile, in the midst of these gaps in sustainable planning, the environmental degradation of Phu Quoc Island has demonstrably accelerated over the past few years.
Quang Nam Province
Quang Nam province was chosen due to WWF’s strong presence on the ground, and despite the relative poverty and many resource-use conflicts related to wetlands, there has been little intervention from the international donor community. In Quang Nam, WWF has two projects, MOSAIC and the Cu Lao Cham Island Marine Protected Area project.
MOSAIC applies a landscape approach to natural resources management. It covers the Greater Annamite region and most upland area in Quang Nam province. The Cu Lao Cham Island Marine Protected Area project aims to foster sustainable management and to support alternative livelihoods for local residents who have been relying mainly on fishing. WAP will be working in Thu Bon watershed, an area which covers the most of Quang Nam province, and the Thu Bon Delta, where wetland ecology and livelihoods are facing severe problems due to economic changes that have occurred in the past few years.
Quang Nam province lies in Central Vietnam. Approximately 75 per cent of the province is covered with forest that provides important habitats for a diverse range of species, including some of Vietnam’s last remaining large mammals such as tigers and elephants. There is also a rich cultural diversity. Eight distinct ethnic groups reside in the province and have, until the last decade, lived traditional lifestyles that rely heavily on the surrounding natural resources.
The lowland Delta has traditionally been rich in fish. Peoples’ livelihoods are based on fishing, rice cultivation in harmony with annual floods occurring in the rainy season. Hoi An has been a major international port from the 17th and 19th century.
Thu Bon and Vu Gia rivers run through the province from upland mountains into the Thu Bon Delta. In the past decade, eight major dams have been constructed or planned in the watershed. The existing dams are already increasing the problem of high Stalinization, altering sediment flow and the water regime. There is unplanned and illegal mining in upland areas, which is the source of toxins such as mercury and cyanide found into the water. In the Delta, the city of Hoi An is receiving increasing numbers of tourists and there is rapid development of tourism facilities. This is increasing the pressure on local water bodies largely through discharge of untreated wastewater. The province has been promoting aquaculture, particularly shrimp farming, which has accelerated destruction of mangroves and conversion of farmland into shrimp farms. Shrimp farming brought visible benefits to local residents for few years but, as elsewhere, has proven to be unsustainable. Loss of mangrove forest area has resulted in significant loss of fishing resources. There is also an increase in the number and severity of conflicts between fishers and tourism operators over the use of water resources.
Most provincial departments, district officials and community representatives consulted during the consultation phase recognize the problems, but do not clearly understand or agree on the overall causes and ultimate impacts of ecological and livelihood degradation occurring in the Thu Bon watershed and the Delta. Most change agents also recognize the importance of coordination among sectors, yet do not know how or have great difficulty working across sectors, given the limited scope of individual department mandates.
There is a potential for Quang Nam province to effectively manage its wetland resources. However, if no action is taken in the near future, the ecology will be damaged to the point where it will have severe impacts on the local economy, including tourism and fishery.
One of the focal areas in Vietnam, Xuan Thuy National Park, is located in Nam Dinh Province, about 150 km south east of Hanoi. Specifically, the area identified for the Wetlands Alliance to work on is Giao Thuy District, one the five communes situated along the river in the buffer zone of the National Park. The area was declared the country’s first Ramsar site by the Bureau of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance in January 1989. It was upgraded from its status as a nature reserve and approved as a national park by the Prime Minister in 2003. Xuan Thuy was also included as part of the Red River Delta World Biosphere Heritage Site by UNESCO in October 2004.
The National park has a total area of 15,000 ha. Of this area, 7,100 ha is core zone and 8,000 ha is a buffer zone with five communes namely Giao Hai, Giao Xuan, Giao Lac, Giao An and Giao Thien. The park has a rich, biodiverse coastal wetland environment that is home to about 220 species of birds (among them are nine endangered species), 110 aquatic plant species, 500 species of benthos and zooplankton. Many aquatic species of high economic value, like shrimps, fish, crabs and oysters, are also found in the area.
Local communities depend heavily on coastal resources for their livelihood. Their main income is derived from culturing various species of shrimp and bivalve shellfish (Meretrix meretri, Meretrix lusoria, Meretrix lyrata). Recent surveys indicate that the poverty rate of the communes in the buffer zone of the Park is very high. Shrimp aquaculture and capture fisheries (collecting shellfish, shrimps and other species from the wild) are main sources of livelihood during the agriculture off-season.
Many efforts have been made for protecting and conserving the ecological values of the Park but the ecological degradation is continuing due to over-fishing, destructive fishing (dynamite, electric fishing) practices, clearing of mangrove forests for shrimp aquaculture, and pollution from different sources within and outside the area. The water pollution badly impacts on human health, particularly women, who work in the water for up to 8-10 hours a day, 20 days per month, to earn a minimum income. Conflicts of use occur, particularly between the aquaculture farmers and the sustenance fishers. Several efforts from national and local governments and international donors have been made to improve local community livelihoods. However, most of the projects are focused on infrastructure improvement and introduction of alternative jobs to local people, i.e. providing service for eco-tourism.
There is a need for a comprehensive program to improve livelihoods of poor people. The plan should consider breaking the cycle of destructive fishing that destroys the ecosystems at the same time protecting and conserving the values of the Ramsar site.
In the middle of 2000, Nam Dinh Vietnam Integrated Coastal Zone Management Office (VNICZM) under the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DONRE) was established within the framework of VNICZM Project. A new mechanism of coordination and cooperation among different stakeholders in Nam Dinh province was established and has been functioning well during the past six years. A multi-sectoral Steering Committee, multi-disciplinary technical advisory group and network of communicators were formed at the provincial level to direct, support and implement different activities within the Project. As a result, the capacity of local government, agencies and communities in natural resources and environment management was strengthened.
Workplan Implementation and Ownership
The main implementation body for the Wetlands Alliance work in Phu Quoc is the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of Kien Giang province and its affiliate - Phu Quoc Marine Protected Area. The agency has long cooperation history with WWF in marine resource conservation and gained certain capacity building through WWF’s work. Through WAP implementation, the agency has also been successful in collaborating and engaging with other provincial agencies as well as district and commune authorities.
In Quang Nam, the project activities are planned and implemented, with technical support from WWF, by three provincial agencies: the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DoNRE), the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), and The Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism (CSTD). The three departments have been working closely under a strategic plan mutually built on the conditions, needs and policies of Quang Nam province. Besides, the WA local partners in Quang Nam are taking opportunities to work in cooperation with other local/international agencies in the areas who share the same concerns on wetlands management issues, which can be named so far as: Vu Gia - Thu Bon river basin management committee, Network of Asian River Basin Organizations (NARBO).
In Nam Dinh the existing ICZM Office is the partner for field oriented work. Other partners of the Alliance will be Giao Thuy District, where the five focal communes of the project are located. Summary of activity focal areas for Vietnam include:
Capacity support for Marine Protected Areas
Community development and Marine Protected Areas
Marine and fisheries research and sustainable harvesting
Sustainable tourism development as an alternative income activities for communities and financial source for MPA
Strengthening integrated management mechanism for wetlands and water resources
Create an enabling environment for local communities to work together for restoration of wetland ecological system
Capacity Development for community based fishery resources management
Capacity development for sustainable tourism
Multi-stakeholder plan to adapt the management framework of Xuan Thuy National Park to benefit the community living within and around the National Park
Strengthening mechanism and system for monitoring resources and activities
Development of Alternative Income Generation activities
Enhancing the resources to maintain fishery stock and regulate access to the resource
Integration of policies and program from national, provincial and local levels
Piloting activity to practice management and mobilize the user group to work cooperatively
Activities in Phu Quoc
Activities in Quang Nam
Activities in Nam Dinh
- Multi-stakeholder plan to adapt the management framework of Xuan Thuy National Park to benefit the community living within and around the National Park
- Strengthening mechanism and system for monitoring resources and activities
- Development of Alternative Income Generation activities
- Enhancing the resources to maintain fishery stock and regulate access to the resource
- Integration of policies and program from national, provincial and local levels
- Piloting activity to practice management and mobilize the user group to work cooperatively