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Fishing villages preserve valuable forest

Update: May, 25/2014 - 18:05

Green growth­ : The trees grow on sand, but below the trees is green moss, which retains moisture and provides water for trees to survive. — VNS Photos Minh Phong

by Minh Phong and Trung Hieu

Vinh Son Village residents in the central province of Quang Binh's Quang Trach District have been persistently preserving their forest, coping with East Sea waves and winds for the last hundred years.

Although the district has experienced severe droughts and storms, Vinh Son Village still survives along with the forest at the foot of Hoanh Son Mountain.

It was scorching hot from early summer until now, even up to 420C during hot days, but the village was still shady thanks to the forest that defends the village from the sea.

Vo Hong Hai, the village chief, noted: "During summer, many villagers come to the forest to hang hammocks to avoid sunlight, because the forest is near the sea so it is very cool with sea winds. Our forest is evergreen throughout the year."

While leading us into the woods, Hai said, "The forest covers 150 hectares; during the war, bombs destroyed much of the area, but later the woods have greened the sand dunes. All the villagers consider the forest as our common property, because it helps us overcome natural disasters."

We were surprised to see that half of this special forest is tram (cajuput).

Why is there a forest growing on sand? That is our question.

And we found the answer right below the forest canopy. The trees grow on sand, but below the trees are green moss, which are like "machine" that retain moisture and provide water for trees to survive, even though the sun blazes down on the sand.

This moss carpet system endlessly extends beneath the forest and has become a rare ecosystem and landscape in Vinh Son.

"So far, you must have seen people in the mountain or lowland areas protecting forests, but fishermen protecting forest seems like a strange story," remarked Hai.

According to the elders of Vinh Son, more than 350 years ago, the Dang and Vo families from Thanh Hoa obeyed the King's order to reclaim land in the Hoanh Son region and they chose this place to set up the village. They chose fishing as their profession.

The village is located close to the mountain and near an ancient forest, and behind the forest is the sea.

As the village has a forest, which is an indication for their long-term survival, the village founders established regulations since the past to preserve the forest.

Since then, their regulations have been changed to fit with modern life but still based on the basic principles set by their ancestors.

"In other villages, their regulations are rarely changed, but ours change every year; depending on the actual situation, we add new regulations so people do not violate or destroy the forest," claimed Hai.

Elder Vo Tuong Chap said, "The village has a village leader, but we also have a village council to protect the forest."

The village council includes elders who select men to protect the forest. Once a year, the village selects some people to protect the forest; this custom has been passed on for more than 300 years.

The villagers contribute fish, rice and money to pay for the forest rangers.

This year, the village council selected three forest protectors: the youngest is 53 years old and the oldest is 78-year-old Chap; all of them do not care about payment. Ranger Vo Van Huong said it is important that all villagers are aware of the need to protect the forest. "We mostly prevent people from other villages who try to cut down trees."

The village has 520 households with 1,833 people, and they contribute rice and food equal to VND10 million (VND475) to the rangers. This is not much, but it is the responsibility of the fishing community with the fortune their forefathers have left.

Preservation: Villagers preserve their ancient forest since it protects them from the sea and drought.

According to their village regulations, forest poachers will receive heavy penalties, even for cutting a twig.

That is why the forest is so green, and today the villagers have 150 hectares of forest nearby the East Sea coast.

Dang Thi Hoa, a local woman who came to the forest along with some neighbours to gather dead leaves said, "Village elders told us that we are not allowed to cut branches and break trees so we do not dare; we only gather dry leaves to make a fire for cooking. The elders told us that anyone who dares to cut trees will contract diseases, so no one dares to destroy the woods; we must obey our ancestors' regulations."

She pointed out that this was the manner in which locals have been protecting the forest for more than 300 years.

In the forest, the trees are close together on every square inch of the white sandy land; the trees are in symbiosis with countless algae that are tiny "water plants" and keep the sand from drying.

It is the way Nature has ensured their survival.

Village chief Hai said, "Since we have this forest, our village does not experience drought. Even during the most severe drought in 1999, other villages severely lacked water but Vinh Son still had sufficient water. The forest accumulates water; if we dig 1m deep into the earth we can see clear water. This is the grace that our ancestors have given their descendants, so we are determined to protect the forest at any cost."

The forest has a rich ecosystem with a number of exotic plant species. In particular, it nourishes many precious rustic bird species such as the cuckoo and kingfishers. They cluster and make up a chorus singing each morning from summer to autumn, which is very vivid.

Tourists who set foot in the land of Vinh Son once wish to visit it again because of the lush green forest and what the locals do to fight climate change.

"Our ancestors had a vision since more than 300 years; today locals have inherited the forest that protects us from the turbulent winds and waves of East Sea. We all know that, if we lose the forest, our village will definitely face desertification because of the mobile sand dunes," said Hai. — VNS

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