Vietnamese volunteers corral efforts to save corals

By Dang Khoa   July 6, 2020 | 07:38 pm PT
Vietnamese volunteers corral efforts to save corals
A member of Sasa Team Marine Animals Rescue brings a restored coral branch back to the Son Tra Peninsula's water. Photo by Sasa Team Marine Animals Rescue.
A group of volunteers has been actively protecting and restoring coral reefs along the Son Tra Peninsula in Da Nang for two years now.

The Son Tra Peninsula, 10 km to the northeast of Da Nang City, has become a preserve of the Sasa Team Marine Animals Rescue for the last two years. The non-profit group has more than 10 volunteer members – locals and foreign environmental activists who are focused on rehabilitation of reefs damaged by humans.

Le Chien, the group leader, said that there were several activities damaging the reefs, including the anchoring of boats by fishermen when fishing near shore, unintentionally stepping on reefs while swimming and diving and polluting the ocean with plastic and ghost nets - fishing nets that have been left or lost in the ocean by fishermen.

He said these visible and invisible threats can cause immediate, extensive damage and even lead to total destruction of reef habitats.

Hundreds of square meters of coral can be harmed in just one day by tourist actions, he said. For instance, tourists not wearing coral-friendly sunscreen can cause the corals to bleach, or they can accidently knock over corals.

Chien, a former IT engineer, formed the group in July 2018, aiming to preserve and protect local marine environment and biodiversity.

He said the group was called Sasa after a rescued dolphin they’d given the name to. The dolphin had washed ashore on the Da Nang coast as he collected data on coral reefs for his research work.

The group takes no days off. Members take turns to work from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., spending an average of four to five hours in the water per day to pick up trash, remove ghost nets from the ocean and perform other reef preservation works.

Chien said that the group was mostly self-financed but has been receiving funds of late from environmental enthusiasts as well as support from marine experts.

Challenging tasks

Sasa Team Marine Animals Rescue members perform coral reef restoration tasks at Son Tra Peninsula. Video by Sasa Team Marine Animals Rescue.

Cutting ghost nets was the first step in reef rehabilitation, Chien said, adding that this was a challenging task since these nets are stuck to reefs at depths of 1-10 meters, with some large ones seen at depths of more than 15 meters on the ocean floor. This job is reserved for Sasa's long-time members. Even professional divers who volunteer are not allowed to perform this task.

The second step is to collect fragments broken off from healthy corals and bring them ashore. These delicate branches are studied in order to classify them and determine suitable restoration methods.

Usually, once the classification is done, members use a type of super glue to attach the fragments onto a rock about the size of a pebble or to a coral reef plug, which is an artificial rock about two feet long and wide and weighs 50-80 kg. Such rocks will later placed back in the ocean at depths of 3-10 meters, depending on the type of coral reef. They become nurseries where damaged branches can heal in one to two months.

Once the healing happens, the team will insert the restored fragments back to the dying reefs for the regeneration, replenishment and repopulating process to continue.

Sasa members are happy that about 90 percent of rescued corals have survived and developed at a fairly fast pace. Chien said coral branches can grow up to 15-20 cm in six months under the right conditions.

The team is aware that their hard work can be undermined by indifferent visitors and locals, but they remain hopeful about the future.

Artificial rocks act a nurseries to help reef fragments and branches heal. Photo by

Artificial rocks act as nurseries to help reef fragments and branches heal. Photo by Sasa Team Marine Animals Rescue.

Chien said there are a number of group projects underway, including working with marine reserves across Vietnam to build marine life rescue stations for sea turtles, dolphins, whales and corals.

The Sasa team is also hoping to expand their work to other coastal regions such the Ly Son and Phu Quoc islands as also Nha Trang beaches.

One project that is close to Sasa’s heart, which they are very passionate about, is building a marine environmental education center for the community, especially children.

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