Cover story

The fight against marine plastic debris

Vietnam is estimated to annually discharge between 0.28 and 0.73 million tons of plastic litter into the ocean, accounting for 6% of the world’s total. The country is among the four top marine polluters after China, Indonesia and the Philippines. Vietnam is taking drastic measures to stop this pollution, especially in the ocean. It has targeted to phase out single-use plastics by 2025.
SOS from polluted beaches

The three coastal communes of Da Loc, Ngu Loc and Minh Loc in Hau Loc district, Thanh Hoa have serious white pollution or plastic pollution. Plastic debris is found everywhere, especially in coastal mangrove forests. 

Plastic pollution has become the world’s second biggest environmental challenge after climate change.
After high tides or big waves, tens of thousands of plastic bags, bottles and debris drift to shore, fully covering the beaches and mangroves. 

One of the country’s most popular tourist cities, Da Nang, is also polluted with plastic trash. The tourism boom and an increasing number of fishing ships have caused serious plastic pollution on Son Tra peninsula and beautiful beaches like My Khe, Non Nuoc and Nguyen Tat Thanh where plastic debris is found everywhere.

Staff of the Cham Islands Marine Conserve Management Unit in Hoi An
on a diving trip to clean up the seabed. Photo: Tat Son

After high tides or big waves, tens of thousands of plastic bags,
bottles and debris drift to shore in Da Loc commune, Thanh Hoa. Photo: Tat Son

Tho Quang fishing port in Da Nang is flooded with “white” waste. Photo: Tat Son

Man Quang villagers on Son Tra peninsula are “encircled” by plastic litter. Photo: Tat Son.

An increasing number of fishing ships
is a reason behind plastic pollution at Tho Quang fishing port in Da Nang. Photo: Tat Son

Plastic trash drift on Man Quang bay, Son Tra penisula. Photo: Thanh Hoa

Da Den (Black Rock) area, a beautiful rocky ground by the northern side of the mountain on Son Tra peninsula, is fully covered with plastic bags, bottles and other plastic debris. Even large pieces of sponge hit by big waves and strong winds are seen stuck to mountain cliffs dozens of meters above the sea.

At the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok on June 22, ASEAN member countries agreed to the Bangkok Declaration and the Framework of Action on marine debris management in the ASEAN region.
Even the world biosphere reserve, Cham islands in Hoi An, Quang Nam province which is strictly protected, is covered in trash. Nguyen Thi Hong Thuy, a staff of the Cham Islands Marine Conserve Management Unit, said litter has damaged valuable coral reefs, seagrass beds and sea turtles.

With a coastline of over 3,200 km and 112 sea gates, Vietnam is facing tough challenges in tackling plastic debris in the ocean, 80% of which is believed to come from the mainland.

Tackling white pollution

“Every family should reduce their use of plastic, everybody should fight against plastic pollution, the entire society should say no to disposable plastics. We must phase out single-use plastic bags across the country by 2025,” said Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the launch of a national campaign against plastic litter in Hanoi in June.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is developing an overall plan on management of plastic waste which will be submitted to the Prime Minister for approval later this year. Other ministries and sectors are also reviewing policies and regulations to limit single-use plastic bags toward finally banning the import and manufacture of plastic bags.

Volunteers of "Cleaning up Son Tra" group collect plastic waste in the Black Rock area. Photo: Tat Son

Da Nang has a team of around 500 young volunteers who regularly clean up beaches on Son Tra peninsula. Photo: Thanh Hoa

Foreign visitors join locals in collecting waste on My Khe beach in Da Nang. Photo: Thanh Hoa

Callan Meyer from South Africa joins locals to clean up Da Den (Black Rock) on Son Tra. Photo: Tat Son

Young people from Da Nang transfer waste collected on Son Tra peninsula to boats for disposal ashore. Photo: Thanh Hoa
The business and manufacturing sector which is responsible for large quantities of plastic waste has also initiated effective and sustainable solutions for the problem. Leading groups and enterprises in Vietnam have teamed up to set up the Packaging Recycling Organization Vietnam (PRO Vietnam) and a Coalition against Plastic Waste. These organizations aim to build environmentally friendly green product chains to incrementally eliminate environmentally harmful plastics.

A number of businesses, such as An Phat Holdings and Thinh Dat International Joint Stock Company, have invested in producing biodegradable packaging, bags, bottles, cups, straws and even fishing nets, to substitute plastic and nylon products.

The movement to fight plastic pollution has spread nationwide, especially in big cities and coastal areas.

Many businesses have now manufactured biodegradable products to replace plastics. Photo: Tat Son

Installation art programs performed nationwide have helped raise public awareness about the harmful impacts of plastic waste. Photo: Tat Son

 At the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 29, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc proposed an initiative to form a global network on sharing data about the ocean and seas and towards a global framework on preventing plastic debris in the ocean.
In Da Nang, “Cleaning up Son Tra”, which is a group of young volunteers, has been set up to collect plastic trash in the Da Den (Black Rock) area. The group has created a fan page on Facebook calling for joint efforts to clean the beautiful rock beach.

On the Cham islands in Quang Nam, young female staff of the Cham Islands Marine Conserve Management Unit have for years made hundreds of diving trips to study the marine environment and clean up the seabed.

The campaign against plastic waste has even spread among school children one of whom is Nguyen Nguyet Linh, a fifth grader from Marie Curie School in Hanoi. Before the beginning of this school year, Linh wrote a letter to her headmaster, proposing that the school abandon the practice of releasing balloons at the school year opening ceremony to protect birds and sea turtles. Her message of “Releasing balloons into the sky to fly for the dreams of school children also means killing the dreams of birds and turtles” is truly a touching appeal for protecting the ocean from the white pollution disaster.
Story: Thanh Hoa - Photos: Thanh Hoa & Tat Son

Islands of A Dragon Legend  Prosperity

Islands of A Dragon Legend & Prosperity

Driven by a dream of controlling the seas, the ancient Vietnamese wove tales of dragons into the very fabric of their coastal heritage, particularly in the Gulf of Tonkin. They include Hai Phong City, home to Bach Long Vi Island district, meaning "White dragon's Tail”, Bai Tu Long Bay, meaning "Bay of Baby dragons” and Cai Rong Port, meaning “Mother dragon” in Van don Island district, Quang Ninh Province and dragon Claw Rock in Co To Island district. Today, these three island districts stand as beacons of maritime economic development in northern Vietnam.