Saving coral from jaws of death major challenge in Nha Trang

By Bui Toan   June 13, 2022 | 12:10 am PT
Due to the extensive period coral needs to grow, saving those in Nha Trang on the brink of death is no mean feat, experts have stressed.

Naturally, coral grows by around one centimeter every year, making it near impossible to save hundreds of square meters of coral dying en-masse at Mun Island in the central town of Nha Trang, a top tourist attraction in Vietnam, according to oceanographers.

An inspection by the management committee of Nha Trang Bay early this year revealed that the Mun Island coral reef has shrunk significantly compared to 2015. The island, about 10 kilometers from shore, lies within the Nha Trang Bay conservation site spanning 160 square kilometers.

The coral coverage rate to the island’s northeast dropped from 54 percent to 32 percent while the rates fell from more than 50 percent to 11 percent in the southeast, and to 8 percent southwest.

In some areas, the damage spreads over hundreds of square meters.

A diver swims over a dead coral reef in Mun Island of Nha Trang Town, June 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Kha

A diver swims over a dead coral reef in Mun Island of Nha Trang Town, June 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Kha

"Aside from natural disasters and climate change, the coral ecosystem in Nha Trang has been affected by sea encroachment fueled by economic and tourism development," said Nguyen Tac An, former director of the Nha Trang Institute of Oceanography.

An said though Vietnam coral farming has become popular over the past decade, coral restoration in Nha Trang is not an easy task.

"Successfully culturing a coral reef might take thousands or even millions of years," he said.

In the past, the institute has tried restoring coral in Nha Trang, identifying nine hard coral species with the ability to recover with a survival rate of over 60 percent.

Test results are considered to have contributed to the restoration of coral reefs. However, compared to other recovery areas like Ly Son, Binh Dinh, and Con Dao, the survival rate of cultured corals in Nha Trang Bay is low, said An.

Thai Minh Quang, a researcher at the institute, said coral can reproduce both asexually and sexually.

As for asexual production, coral reproduces by budding or fragmentation. Through budding, new polyps "bud" off from parent polyps to form new colonies. In fragmentation, an entire colony (rather than just a polyp) branches off to form a new colony.

However, Quang said, it would take a very long time because each year, coral would grow just one centimeter for poritida and around one to 10 centimeters for pocilloporidae.

He said coral reefs are home to various types of ocean species, some who only stop by to mate. Therefore, should coral disappear, the marine ecosystem would be affected.

An concurred, stressing economic development should not impose on environmental sustainability or the cultural values of a given locality.

Coral reefs contribute as much as half the resources for seafood production. Therefore, if coral was to die en-masse, seafood sources would shrink, directly impacting the economy of Nha Trang, Quang said.

Preserving the maritime ecosystem, which includes coral reefs, requires stringent management and public awareness efforts, An and Quang noted, calling for a halt to excessive marine encroachment and exploitation, along with long-term, scientific solutions.

Policies to support fishermen should also be forthcoming so they would stop operating in protected areas.

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

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