Environmental Issues an Increasing Priority
As rapid development of tourism projects continues in Binh Thuan province, environmental issues and regulations are now an increasing concern for local authorities, developers and the tourists who visit the area.
Binh Thuan's 192 km-long beach-front now has about 3,000 resort rooms and 2,000 hotel rooms. For the past five years, the number of tourists visiting the province has increased 30% annually. 80% of the provinceís investment is now focused on tourism. The number of visitors to the area this year is expected to reach nearly 1.7 million.
There are 307 new resort projects registered or under construction in the province. This is nearly 5 times more than the current number of resorts in Binh Thuan. The astounding number of developments raises questions of whether local resources, especially water supply, can support them. New regulations to keep pollution at bay will likely be necessary. Short-sighted investments made without regard to environmental impact could destroy the local ecology and eventually undermine and damage the tourism industry in the long-term.
Pollution at the beach is the number one concern for most tourists. Individual resorts may have adequate water treatment systems and take great care to clean their beachfronts daily, but if their neighbors don't take the same measures, it greatly undermines their efforts. Many resorts release untreated waste water directly into the sea (as do local residents and fishermen). Seepage and irrosion on the beach is evident at several larger resorts.
In the past, the province urgently needed investment and accepted small, private projects which did not take necessary steps to protect the environment. Local authorities are now considering refusing licenses for smaller projects that donít have enough capital to fund and implement new environmental regulations.
Local authorities now require that all resorts in the province must complete new waste treatment systems by the end of this year. Presently, only six resorts have met the official requirements for complete water treatment systems. However, current penalties for polluters are probably too small at only about VND2 million (US$125). A state-run water treatment system, which will serve as a back-up for the resortsí individual systems, is planned for 2010.
Resort owners and tour companies are aware that the term "ecotourism" is a useful catch-phrase for drawing tourists. Ignorance of the term leads to a deliberate transforming of the ecosystem (and usually weakening the local ecology) to conform to some "ideal aesthetic" rather than preserving the natural state. A lack of understanding of the term has lead to its misuse and in the end, contributes to further damage to the local environment. Construction in fragile areas and modification of dune landscapes leads to erosion, landslides or even obliteration of a dune. Removing trees for resort construction weakens the dunes, which are easily deformed by wind and rain. Schemes to beautify areas by planting trees and gardens in dune areas can cause the dunes to collapse by inundating them with water.
Sea Turtles in Focus
A new project sponsored by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the USA to monitor sea turtles and fishing boats operating off Binh Thuan province will be initiated this month. The program will survey the netting of sea turtles by fishing boats in order to develop new solutions to prevent the problem.
Vietnam approved a memorandum on the conservation and protection of sea turtles in SE Asian waters in 1997, ratified another on their habitat in 2001, and publicized its 2010 plan on protection of sea turtles in 2004.
Over the next eight years the Vietnam Ministry of Fisheries will embark on a new plan for development of 15 marine reserves, including Phu Quy island in Binh Thuan province. Phu Quy is a relatively pristine coral reef environment. The ministry plans to conduct surveys, educational programs, promote brackish water aquaculture, and impose new limits on fishing within the reserves. While the project does not focus on sea turtles, any protection of marine reserves in the region will likely benefit them.
Five species of sea turtles are found along Vietnam's coast. All are protected under CITES treaties. Until this century, sea turtle eggs were commonly harvested by locals for food, and the turtles were commonly found in local seafood restaurants. They have become uncommon in recent years due to poaching and loss of their nesting habitat through resort development.