Coral death product of illegal fishing, climate change: Nha Trang insiders

By Bui Toan   June 10, 2022 | 08:00 pm PT
Coral death product of illegal fishing, climate change: Nha Trang insiders
Two divers under the sea of Mun Island, overlooking dead corals. Photo by VnExpress/Mai Kha
Hundreds of square meters of coral are dying en-masse off the coast of Nha Trang, with illegal fishing one of the possible culprits.

Nguyen Son, a tourist from Hanoi, traveled to the Mun Island in the Nha Trang Bay conservation site late last month. He expected the ecosystem at the island to be improved after a long period of tourism suspension due to Covid-19.

But a dive instead revealed an empty seabed, with few fish and coral left.

Son said the suspension of tourism was a prime opportunity for sea creatures to thrive. Over a year ago, divers like him were ecstatic to see the ocean ecosystem at Mun Island recovering. Without the presence of tourists, the coral and sea creatures would become no less majestic than in Malaysia, Thailand or Indonesia, they thought.

"We sea lovers are very sad to see the coral die en-masse," Son said, adding that the current ecosystem is only about 10 percent of what it used to be before the pandemic hit.

Dead coral on the seabed of Mun Island, Nha Trang. Video by VnExpress/Mai Kha

Mun Island, about 10 kilometers from shore, lies within the Nha Trang Bay conservation site spanning 160 square kilometers. It has a diverse ecosystem and popular diving sites, attracting scores of tourists.

Mai Hoang Kien Kha, a veteran diver with 20 years of experience in Nha Trang, confirmed the coral is dying in the island. There are few sea creatures left on the seabed, while other areas are filled with trash and fishing contraptions. The northeastern region of the island used to boast beautiful coral, but now hundreds of square meters are dead, he said.

A study by the Institute of Oceanography, the Russian Academy of Sciences and Vietnam-Russia Tropical Center in Nha Trang in March 2021 said 90 percent of coral in Nha Trang Bay have disappeared since 1980.

Hoang Xuan Ben, deputy head of the Nha Trang Institute of Oceanography, said the disappearance of coral in the area has many causes, including pollution, coral bleaching and natural disasters.

Huynh Binh Thai, head of the management committee of Nha Trang Bay, said natural disasters is the prime cause of coral death. Typhoon Rai in December 2021 in particular had damaged over 80 percent of coral in Nha Trang, he added.

"Climate change and global warming also negatively affected coral, not just in Nha Trang but areas like Phu Quoc (off the southern coast)," Thai said, adding that starfish also contributed to coral decline.

But for sea veterans like Kha, natural disasters alone cannot explain what’s happening in Nha Trang.

Kha said if natural disasters were indeed the cause, areas like Van Phong Bay should feel the brunt first as winds affect it before reaching Nha Trang Bay, yet its coral remains intact.

"Mun Island, an area that’s supposed to be more protected from winds, has an empty seabed and dying coral. It’s absurd to think natural disasters are to blame," Kha said.

Several guides in the area ascribed dying coral in Mun Island to illegal fishing. Vessels would hover around the island, awaiting illegal opportunities to fish. They typically utilize bottom trawling across a large sea area, damaging coral in the process.

The management committee of Nha Trang Bay said that in 2021 and the first half of 2022, patrols detected around 49 incidents of illegal fishing. But due to a lack of personnel, it’s difficult to monitor the entire area and counter illegal fishing, prompting the involvement of border guards on several occasions, the committee said.

Nguyen Tan Tuan, chairman of Khanh Hoa People’s Committee, said the province has requested Nha Trang authorities to ramp up patrols and persuade tourists to help prevent pollution in the area. It has also requested the Nha Trang Bay management committee and oceanography institute to cooperate and regrow coral.

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