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Tuesday, 25 October 2016 17:29
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The issue of marine and island environment in Vietnam today

(LLCT) - Vietnam’s aquaculture plays a particularly important role in the country’s socio-economic development, national security and defence.

Vietnam’s coastline stretches over 3,260km, and sea area is three times the land’s, with 28 coastal provinces and cities. About 31% of the total population lives along the seashore. Vietnam’s aquaculture plays a particularly important role in the country’s socio-economic development, national security and defence.

Vietnam’s sea and islands are home to approximately 11 thousand species of creatures residing in over 20 ecosystem variations that belong to six different regions of marine bio-diversity. The potential volume of seafood estimated about 3.1 to 4.2 millions of tons every year with an annual exploitation of 1.4 to 1.6 million tons. Currently, 370 thousand hectares of the Vietnamese coastline are suitable for aquaculture.

Vietnam’s sea contains a large amount of precious minerals, including titanium, aluminium, iron, salt, manganese, glass sand and rare earth element. It also boasts many beautiful bays and islands, including Ha Long Bay, Cat Hai, Cat Ba, and Bach Long Vi Islands, which have very marketable sea tourism and ecotourism industries.

Also among the assets of Vietnam’s marine territory, 500 thousand square kilometres of oil and gas potentials make up the seabed (with three large regions: the Gulf of Tonkin, the continental shelf of Quang Tri - Thua Thien Hue and the continental shelf of the South). According to initial estimates, the potential volume of these areas may yield 3 to 4 billion barrels of petroleum and about 50 - 70 billion cubic meters of gas.

For centuries, the long coastline and numerous bays have made the seaway an important route of Vietnam’s transportation in national and international trade. About 100 locations along the coastline can be used to build seaports. Among the 10 largest sea routes in the world, 5 cross the East Sea or connect with the East Sea. In addition, the network of waterways that includes the Red, Ma, Ca, Dong Nai -Vam Co and Mekong Rivers, and the available coastal roads, have created favourable conditions for domestic and international trade.

In recent times, in the face of pressure from a rapid growing population and higher demands for economic development and exhausted mainland resources, exploitation of the sea and marine industries has increased. However, this exploitation has mainly focused on economic development goals while environmental protection has been disregarded, which has lead to a rapid exhaustion of the marine resources and has seriously threatened the marine ecosystem. Sea tourism is developing intensely, but its disorganized planning and management has caused excessive pollution in coastal regions. Additionally, the yield of fish catches has exceeded the permitted limit, 80% of fish catches from coastal water. In 2002, according to statistics from the World Resources Institute, 80% of coral reefs in Vietnam are in danger, of which 50% are in a state of particular and pressing concern. Since 2002, the quality of Vietnamese marine environment and coastal regions has continued to decline. Also, the red tide that occurring in 2002 and 2003 in Khanh Hoa, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan provinces caused severe losses for aquaculture. In the Red Book of endangered animals, 70 species of sea creatures are listed for protection and 85 species are also in varying degrees of extinction risk. The pollution of Vietnam’s marine environment is due to the following reasons:

First, the mainland pollution caused by development activities, especially on the river valleys, - such as urbanization, the development of industrial parks and mines, brackish aquaculture, and rapid population growth - has released a large amount of waste. The untreated waste matter is poured into the rivers and sea, which results in environmental pollution in the coastal areas. It is estimated that waste of this kind is responsible for 50% to 60% of ocean pollution.

Second, aquaculture and the process of exploiting aquatic products have resulted in pollution in the form of waste from an increase in motorized vessels, spurred by sea tourism and explorations for oil and gas reserves. The development of seaports and dredging of seabeds, as well as the sinking of ships, and other disasters (oil spillages, illegally dumped products - waste oil, radioactive waste, toxic chemicals) have also polluted the environment of Vietnam’s sea and islands. In addition, the increase of international marine traffic, in part due to oil exploitationand transport, has contributed to the current large-scale pollution.

Third, pollution from foreign countries affects the toxicity of the East Sea. At the moment, the world is faced with the exhaustion of natural mainland resources and severe environmental degradation. Thus, developed countries have found ways to appropriate the natural resources of the developing countries, including Vietnam’s. Vietnam’s marine environment is being destroyed by the uncontrolled exploitation of marine resources, the consolidation of reefs, and the nuclear weapons testing of foreign countries.

With a deep awareness of the issues involved in marine and island environmental protection, the Party and the State have taken interest in this problem by signing and implementing related policies and normative legal acts.

Vietnam signed international legal documents regarding environmental protection of marine environment, including agreements at the Convention on Biological Diversity, the World Heritage Convention, the Ramsar Convention, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea(SOLAS), and the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs). On June 23, 1994, Vietnam signed the 1982 Convention on the Law of the sea. The Assembly of Vietnam issued a Resolution on the approval of this important legal document. Article 1 in the Resolution specifies: “With the approval of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the sea, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam demonstrates its resolve, together with the international community, to build an impartial legal order and encourage development and cooperation at sea”.

Vietnam’s 2005 Law on Environmental Protection has four articles on the marine environmental Protection (from article 55 to 58). In order to make concrete the regulations of the Law on Environmental Protection, on March 6, 2009, the Government issued Resolution No 25/2009/ND-CP on the management of the resources concerning marine and island environmental protection.

On February 9, 2007, the 4th Plenum of the Party Central Committee (10th tenure) adopted the Resolution No 09-NQ/TW on “Vietnam’s Marine Strategy toward 2020” with four orientations: First,Vietnam must become a prosperous country by making use of the sea, promoting its potential and comprehensively developing its marine industries with rapid, sustainable, and effective growth and a long-term vision. Second, the country must closely relate socio-economic development with the guarantee of national defence and security. International cooperation and environmental protection must be synonymous; the development of territorial waters, coastal regions and islands should follow the development of the inland in the direction of industrialization and modernization. Third,Vietnam must exploit the resources of the region for socio-economic development, at the same time, committing to the protection of the marine environment. In the spirit of initiative, the State must utilize its national resources to proactively pursue the advantages of international cooperation and attract external resources on principles of equality and mutual interest, all the while firmly defending the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Vietnam.

In order to implement the Party’s Resolution on “Vietnam’s Marine Strategy toward 2020”, the Government issued the Resolution No 27/2007/NQ-CP on May 30, 2007 and the Action Program of the Government. The Prime Minister issued Decision No. 137/2007/QD-TTg on August 21, 2007, ratifying the Project of organizing information to better serve the prevention of natural disasters at sea and Decision No. 373/QD-TTg on March 23, 2010, ratifying the project of disseminating the management, protection, and sustainable development of Vietnam’s marine territory and islands. The Central and local agencies, with the armed forces, took initiative in planning and directly implementing the action program of the Government and achieved valuable results.

Notably, the Law on the Sea of Vietnam was passed on June 21, 2012 by the National Assembly (which became effective on January 1, 2013), in which Article 35 marked specific regulations on the conservation and protection of the marine resources and environment. On June 25, 2015, the National Assembly approved the Law on Marine and Island Resources and Environment (which became effective on July 1, 2016) with regulations to forbid the actions of degrading and destroying the marine and island environment and ecosystem, to forbid the violation of maritime spatial planning, and to promote the sustainable use of marine resources.

The system of normative legal actions on the marine environmental management and protection initially created a legal basis for the intensification of state management in aspects of the marine environment, and favourable conditions for the effective and sustainable development of the marine economy.

However, the protection of the marine and island environment has demonstrated a number of shortcomings. Currently, the state management mechanisms for the marine and island economy are entrusted to numerous departments and industries. Therefore, each of them only focuses on their benefits and show little interest in the protection of the natural resources and environment and sustainable development. The lack of cooperation among the different industries in the use and exploitation of the marine resources divides the aquatic territory and the system of coastal areas remains broken. These divisions both directly and indirectly cause environmental and ecological problems, which damage the economy in the long run.

Although the Government issued Resolution No. 25 on the general management of marine resources and protection of the oceanic and island environment, it has not been able to fully institutionalize the guidelines of this Resolution. The Law of the Sea of Vietnam only mentions few objectives related to general management; stipulations are neither mentioned nor synchronous. In addition, there are few regulations for a united management towards a basic examination of the oceanic and island resources and environment, including basic investigational operations and scientific research for the available resources. There is also a lack of specific regulations in licensing foreign individuals and organizations to carry out scientific research in the territorial waters of Vietnam.

Additionally, the measures enacted to protect the marine and island resources and environment, control oceanic and island pollution, and develop the ecosystems are inadequate. The monitoring and information systems for the marine and island resources have neither been institutionalized nor provided a legal basis for synchronous construction, operation and management. Data, especially the information on basic investigation, scientific research, and use of marine resources, has not been integrated into a united and modern database to assist policy-making for marine economic development and the protection of oceanic and island environments.

In the coming time, it is essential to implement the following measures for the protection of marine environment and sustainable development goals.

First, it is necessary to incorporate the objectives of environmental protection into socio-economic development programs. Industries connected to the marine economy must apply eco-friendly technologies in matters of aquaculture, seafood exploitation, and processing. Also, more effective management and treatment of waste and polluted products is necessary before they are poured into the rivers and sea. Disaster preparedness for such issues as oil spills must be addressed in addition to the protection of important ecosystems (coral reefs, mangrove forest, and sea weed cover) and restoration of the lost habitats. Fishermen, who make their living from the health of the marine environment, must be provided opportunities to work and enhance their living standards so as to eradicate alleviate rampart issues of starvation. It is necessary to frequently deploy propaganda activities to raise awareness for all levels and sectors, economic sectors, social organization and local people about the management and sustainable use of marine resources and protection of oceanic and island environment.

Second, it is necessary to intensify state management of the sea and the marine and island environment. Because general management is a new and complicated question and is related to numerous industries, enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of state management is being a decisive role in environmental protection. Also, it is necessary to have a single government agency responsible for the economic activities, management and protection of the marine and island environment. The objective of the general and united management is to ensure the inter-industry development, optimize and guarantee mutual interests between the State, individuals, and local communities, as well as to minimize conflict of interest in the process of exploiting and using the marine, coastal and island resources and environment.

Third, it is necessary to strengthen the international cooperation on the issue of marine and island environmental protection, especially with countries whose territory are contiguous to Vietnam’s. Given the economic trend towards the sea, the international community should be aware that the sea is a homogeneous environment and the common property of mankind. Therefore, its use requires cooperation between countries with a view to conserve the ocean. In an increasingly complicated world with numerous issues of marine resources and environment beyond the scale of any one country, international cooperation is not purely a choice, but is a necessity for nations in general and Vietnam in particular.

The last, the Party and State should continue the negotiations on and delimitations of the marine territory with neighbouring countries in order to strengthen international cooperation at sea in the spirit of the United Nations Convention on the 1982 Law of the Sea and the Declaration on the Conduct of parties in the East Sea (DOC). By these conventions, Vietnam should pursue peace and stability in the East Sea, burying disagreements and seeking solutions for long-term prosperity.

Dr. Le Thi Thanh Ha

Institute of Philosophy

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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