Vietnam halts diving off popular island to protect coral – Science-Environment News – Report by AFR

Vietnam has banned swimming and diving at a popular central tourist spot in a bid to revitalize its damaged coral reef, officials said Monday.

The communist nation boasts more than 3,200 kilometers of coastline with crystal clear waters, vibrant marine life and sandy beaches that are a major tourist attraction.

Coral reefs across Southeast Asia have been hit hard by global warming, and scientists warn that their deterioration could have devastating environmental and economic impacts.

Recent photos taken off Hon Mun Island – about 14 kilometers from the city of Nha Trang and popular with divers thanks to its diverse ecosystem – showed the reef bleached and damaged.

“The Nha Trang Bay Management Authority has decided to halt swimming and diving activities in areas around Hon Mun Island,” officials said.

In a statement, they said the ban is “to assess the condition of the sensitive area so that an appropriate plan to implement the marine reserve can be drawn up.”

As of Monday, the ban will apply “until further notice,” they added.

According to state media, around 60 percent of the region’s coastal bed was covered by live coral in 2020, but more recent findings showed that this had shrunk to less than 50 percent.

Local authorities previously blamed climate change for the shrinking ecosystem, noting that strong storms in 2019 and 2021 had damaged the coral.

They also blamed illegal fishing, dredging, construction of industrial parks and waste disposal.

Divers have expressed anger at the decision to close the waters.

“Swimming and diving activities had the least impact on coral reefs compared to other activities,” Ho Chi Minh City diver Nguyen Son told AFP.

“The ecosystem (around Hon Mun) should have recovered after two years of pandemic,” said diver Trinh Ngoc Sang.

“Without proper management, the fishing vessels came in and destroyed the seabed,” he told AFP, recalling the sight of debris and dead coral on a recent dive.

“It would take dozens of years for the coral reefs to recover, so they want to shut them down completely?”

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that 4.5 million people in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region could be affected by damaged coral reefs.

The reefs support about 25 percent of marine biodiversity.

Vietnam’s decision follows a similar move in Thailand, which restricted access to Maya Bay – immortalized in Leonardo DiCaprio’s film The Beach – to give the local ecosystem a chance to recover.

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