Coastal forests in the Mekong Delta are being narrowed while the sea is deeply infiltrating the mainland.
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Coastal forest retreats
In mid-May, 2012, reporters followed a group of experts of the Centre for Preservation and Development of Water Resources to make a survey of mangrove forests and sea dykes in the Mekong Delta.
They visited Cu Lao Dung district in Soc Trang province, which is the largest and the last islet of the Hau River. The islet fronts the East Sea in one side.
Tran Kim Chuong, head of the Natural Resources and Environment Department of Cu Lao Dung, said that the district’s An Thanh Nam commune is expanded by 50 hectares yearly towards the sea while An Thanh 1 commune loses 1,000 to 2,000 square meters of land per year because of the sea encroachment.
An Thanh Nam is expanded to the sea because it has maintained 1,200 hectares of the coastal preventive forest. Local people said that thousands of bats have appeared in the local forest. This is a good sign, showing environmental improvement.
Meanwhile, in Bac Lieu province, the preventive forest has been downsized by nearly 10 percent in the last three years, to 4,600 hectares. With 56km of coast, this protective forest area is not enough to prevent the sea from encroaching into the mainland.
Nha Mat ward in Bac Lieu province was a preventive forest in the past. Today, this area has become a crowded residential area. Nguyen Kim Huynh, 49, a local resident, pointed to a concrete dyke and said that it was breached several times by powerful waves.
Huynh said that in the season of northeast wind, sea waves are several meters high and the dyke could not stand these waves. Since the coastal forest was destroyed, the sea has had less fish, the man said, adding that he could earn several US dollars a day from catching fish.
Dr Duong Van Ni, lecturer of the Environment and Natural Resources at Can Tho University, said that in this situation, the preventive forest outside sea dykes will gradually disappear.
Ni explained that coastal forest is a closed ecological system, which can move forward and backward. The construction of concrete dykes has broken the living vessel and the way the forest moves backward.
The sea encroaches upon the mainland
The Ganh Hao River, which separates Bac Lieu and Ca Mau provinces in southern Vietnam, is around 50km long. The river runs to the sea, making it become a busy fishing port.
Several decades ago, Ganh Hao was a wild area, covered by jungle. Nowadays, the forest has nearly disappeared.
Nguyen Van Be, from Ganh Hao town, Bac Lieu province, who has lived here since the 1970s, said that his home was removed several times because of landslides. “The entire hamlet 1 at the Ganh Hao estuary disappeared totally because of landslides. Landslides have become serious since 1997.”
After a fierce landslide, a concrete dyke was built along the Ganh Hao River, which is called the shield to protect the town. Be said that at present, the dyke can defend his house but he is unsure about the future.
Be’s house is near the dyke and he said that during the northeast wind season, waves are 1-2m higher than the dyke.
In late 2011, the sea water rose high in Bac Lieu, which was said to be an abnormal phenomenon, and flooded the Ganh Hao fishing port, isolating hundreds of families.
According to the Bac Lieu Hydrometeorology Forecasting Centre, the highest flood tide was measured at the Ganh Hao estuary.
Perhaps the time that people encroach into the sea has ended. Research works showed that the sea will continue rising in the future, said Dr Le Anh Tuan from the Institute for Climate Change Research of Can Tho University.
Climate change impact on the Mekong Delta is anticipated to be huge and it will be fiercer if hydro-power plants are built on the mainstream of the Mekong River.
Upgrading sea dykes is considered an urgent task in the Mekong Delta to confront rising sea levels. In addition, planting preventive forests along the coast is an effective solution, suggested officials.