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Marine Ecosystems at Risk of Further Damage

Trinh Thanh Thuy- Vietnam News, 7th October 2016

Vietnam is bordered in three directions by the East Sea and is home to an abundance of
other aquatic ecosystems making these ecosystems significant to the country.
Due to the low socioeconomic status of this country, further deterioration of these
ecosystems is proving to be a serious concern.
Research into these ecosystems is recognising the diminishing quality of these environments
and the subsequent effects of this.
Unsustainable human interaction is largely to blame for this reduction in quality, however
sustainability continues to be forgotten in this developing countrys attempt to improve its
economic status and standard of living.
The Vietnamese government has recognised this issue and is working to promote a more
sustainable approach towards the environment.

Vietnam is located within the East Sea in with a long coastline extending over 3,200km and territorial
sea of over one million square kilometres. The countrys dependence on marine ecosystems can
therefore be recognised due to it. However due to the low socio-economic status of the nation
further deterioration of these ecosystems is occurring as they disregard sustainability and exploit
these ecosystems in attempt to make financial gains leading to economic growth and increased
standards of living for this developing country. This environmental imperialism approach lacks
intergenerational equity as the overexploitation of current resources will lead to sustained ecological
damage in the long term.

Marine ecosystems within Vietnam are recognised for their high levels of genetic and species
diversity as well as high ecosystem diversity including mangroves, coral reefs, lagoons, seaweed and
algae ecosystems, intertidal wetlands and estuaries.

The role of the mangrove ecosystems is of high importance as it prevents damaging hydrological and
geomorphic processes from occurring such as erosion and weathering. They also hold great intrinsic
value in providing a habitat for rare species of birds and animals, as well as holding utility value in
the valuable wood products obtained from these ecosystems. However, in the last five decades
Vietnam has lost 67% of its total area of mangrove forest in comparison with 1943. The rate of
change has increased over the last two decades from 3.266ha per year (1990) to 5.613ha per year
(2012). This is not only a demise of intergenerational equity as future custodians of Vietnam will not
be able to utilise these mangrove forests, but the loss of habitat will result in a reduction in both
genetic and species diversity causing an increase in ecosystem vulnerability and reduced functioning
through the loss of linkages in the food chain and energy flow.

On top of this, the coral reefs and seagrass beds have also experienced dramatic reductions in
habitat over the last few decades. A survey released in 2014 by the Natural Resources and Maritime
Environment Institute revealed that only one percent of the 1,300 square kilometres of coral reef
coastline of Vietnam is in a good condition with coral coverage dropping by 30% in only two
decades. The findings also uncovered that the aquatic creature volume per hectare in lagoons had
fallen by 50% in the last decade. Thus, it can be concluded that both species and genetic diversity
has decline to half of what it previously was ten years prior, allowing for a considerably vulnerable
ecosystem. Research also concluded that seaweed cover falls by 80ha per annum in the highly
populated province of Khanh Hoa. An academic attributed these findings to the impact of humans
upon these coastal environments expressing that the loss of coral reefs occurred mostly [in] area
inhabited by people. Not only do these deteriorated ecosystems suffer from reduced biodiversity,
diminishing their resilience significantly, the quality of the marine environments is lessened. This
could prove to be rather detrimental to the country, especially in those populated areas as the
intrinsic value of the coastal regions are diminished, as is the utility value in regards to tourism and
recreation is also reduced hence worsening the local economies of these provinces.

As the population of these areas increase the reliance and exploitation of these marine ecosystems
continues, further destroying their intergenerational equity. Negative human impacts including
natural resource overexploitation, unsustainable aquaculture operations and industrial production,
as well as climate change have also contributed to the demise of these marine habitats. The current
imperialism approach towards these ecosystems provides limited intragenerational equity, only
providing for those living in coastal regions.

In response to these damaging activities upon Vietnams marine ecosystems the importance of
managing and protecting these ecosystems is significant. The research carried out by several
academics alongside the surveys and information they have released is aimed to educate the
population of Vietnam on the extent of the damage they have caused as well as to inform them of
the ways in which they can minimise their impact upon their local ecosystem. The need to maintain
biodiversity within these ecosystems is of very high importance as the rate of these ecosystems is
reliant on strong genetic, species and ecosystem diversity. Reduced linkages within the aquatic life is
gradually diminishing the functioning of the ecosystems and as environments such as the mangroves
are slowly declining more vulnerable ecosystems are becoming exposed to geomorphic and
hydrological processes that may further demolish the marine environments. Action was taken in
2010 when the maritime protection area (MPA) development program was designed to control the
activities occurring within these ecosystems and attempt to minimise the impact of activities
previously deemed to be the cause of the damage to these environments. These MPAs plan to both
restore the environment to a state like that of the ecosystems a couple of decades ago, reducing the
malleability of these stresses as much as possible, as well as regaining some intragenerational equity
ensuring that these ecosystems will be able to provide for the future. Legislative action will come
into place this year designed to manage resources to avoid overexploitation and promote
sustainable ways in which to obtain resources.