|Many ecosystems in the Mekong Delta were destroyed due to uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Minh
by Hoang Nam
CA MAU (VNS)— Uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources has weakened or completely destroyed many of the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta's ecosystems, experts said at an annual forum last Friday.
More than 200 scientists, policymakers from ministries as well as officials of the 13 Delta provinces, representatives from international conservation and development organisations, research institutes and universities gathered for the "Nature and Culture Conservation for Sustainable Development of Mekong Delta" forum.
Many experts at the forum stressed the importance of maintaining ecosystems in the Mekong Delta, particularly in the context of climate change challenges.
The Delta's ecosystems have reduced in size, become isolated and fragmented because of activities that include forest clearance for aquaculture or agriculture, infrastructure development, residential area enlargement and contamination by production and wastewater discharge, according to Hoang Viet, Climate Change Co-ordinator for World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Viet Nam.
Viet said the construction of hydropower dams upstream changed the natural flow of the river, leading to the loss of alluvium, making the delta even more vulnerable to climate change.
"In the past, mangrove forests covered almost all the Delta, but they are disappearing rapidly. Now mangrove forests cover only Bac Lieu and Ca Mau provinces (about 77,000ha)," he noted.
The Mekong river is one of the largest rivers in the world, second only to the Amazon in terms of biodiversity. It includes a vast array of ecosystems including mangrove forests, rivers and streams, sand dunes, seasonal mangrove forest-grasslands, and pond and inland ecosystems.
Each ecosystem provides delta residents with different, essential benefits. For local economies, the ecosystems provide rich fisheries, fruits and/or alluvium for agriculture. They also protect local residents and their surrounding environment with coastline protection, erosion control, flow regulation, microclimate conditioning and carbon absorption.
The ecosystems are home to many rare species of fauna, especially birds like the red Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) and fish like the Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas).
Rapid, unplanned economic development, and unchecked population growth, as well as climate change, had continually pressurised these ecosystems and degraded the quality of their services, experts said at the forum.
The ecosystems and their services are nature's gift to the delta, and to maintain their benefits, the understanding of their natural cycles should be enhanced and more plans made to protect them effectively, they added.
The protection of Mekong Delta ecosystems as an urgent task was emphasised by the WWF and the Biodiversity Conservation Agency (BCA) at the Forum for Provincial Delta Policy and Decision Makers. The forum aimed at fostering learning from and sharing of best practices with experts from international organisations.
"Climate Change impacts on the region are already obvious; thus protecting, recovering and maintaining healthy ecosystems have become critical and must be strategic," said Huynh Thi Mai, Deputy Director of BCA, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
"The BCA, with technical support from WWF, other organisations and experts, has been drafting the first National Plan for Biodiversity Conservation, in which the importance of preserving and maintaining ecosystems are emphasized," she said.
WWF experts said the recovery and maintenance of ecosystems and their services required synchronisation of local policies to ensure sustainable livelihoods for those still dependent on rice farming, fishing and aquaculture.
Increasing awareness of the need for environmental protection in local communities was also critical, along with the development of mechanisms and tools to support ecosystem service payments (PES), they added.
In face of the challenges to maintaining the health and integrity of ecosystems, there have been some positive developments in the delta.
The forum seeks to provide policy makers in the thirteen Mekong River Delta provinces with a greater understanding of the importance of maintaining ecosystem services, learn new approaches in planning and maintenance, with particular attention paid to evaluate and quantify ecosystem services.
This is the fifth Forum jointly organized by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the People's Committee of Ca Mau and the WWF. — VNS