Rangers on Côn Đảo Island protect sea and forest

February 08, 2019 - 14:00

Forest rangers on Côn Đảo Island, in the southern province of Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu, are familiar with a busy schedule because they not only patrol the forests, they also have to protect aquatic resources.

Côn Đảo Island rangers patrol and protect the area. -- Photo Lê Hân
Viet Nam News

Lê Hân

BÀ RỊA-VŨNG TÀU — Forest rangers on Côn Đảo Island, in the southern province of Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu, are familiar with a busy schedule because they not only patrol the forests, they also have to protect aquatic resources.

The sky above Côn Đảo Island District has witnessed a number of whirlwinds, signalling the return of rough seas. Still, the work of rangers continues as normal.

Côn Đảo National Park has a total natural area of nearly 20,000ha, including 5,990ha of forest and 14,000ha of water.

The 60 forest rangers here are responsible for forest protection, marine conservation and protection of sovereignty.

There were no forest violations and only nine sea violations reported in 2018, according to the Côn Đảo National Park’s management board.

One day in early January, a flight from HCM City took a group of reporters from the Nông thôn ngày nay (Countryside Today) newspaper to Côn Đảo Island.

During this season, according to local residents, only planes can take people to the island while passenger ships from the mainland to the island are cancelled because of the rough conditions.

The first place the reporters visited was Côn Đảo National Park.

Nguyễn Khắc Pho, director of Côn Đảo National Park’s Management Board, said the park was named and established under the then Prime Minister’s decision in March 1993. Before 1993, it was a wild forest. However, the first rangers arrived here immediately after the Southern liberation day (30 April, 1975).

Nguyễn Văn Anh, chief of the Côn Đảo National Park’s mobile ranger team, who came to the island in 1987, said: “As soon as I set foot on this island, I fell in love with the forest and joined the forest ranger team.”

“For the past 40 years, I have gone to every corner of the forest to make sure there are no trees being cut down.”

However, the work of Văn Anh and 60 other rangers here is unlike that of forest rangers on the mainland. Côn Đảo park rangers were protecting the forest and patrolling the seas. We started taking part in a sea patrol with the mobile ranger team.

Strong winds and 1.5m-high waves pounded the boat, but it could not prevent the rangers from starting their patrol.

Nguyễn Văn Trà, deputy head of Côn Đảo National Park’s forest protection department, said besides the main island, there were 16 smaller islands. The nearest island was 4 nautical miles away, while the farthest was a few dozen nautical miles away.

In order to protect forests and the sea, the national park has built ranger stations on these islands.

Hòn Tài (Tài Island) has an important ranger station that is responsible for protecting sea turtles and sea cucumbers, as well as a 34ha forest. It took us nearly 45 minutes by ship to get to Tài Island.

Trần Văn Bình, head of Tài Island’s ranger station, said: "When it comes to the stormy season, it takes nearly a month for the three rangers here to meet visitors."

Three rangers including Bình are in charge of patrolling Tài Island and two small islands nearby.

Ranger Trần Văn Ninh said he has worked on Tài Island for three years. “When I first started working on the island, I felt very sad.

"I missed my wife and children at home, sometimes I wanted to quit. However, we encourage ourselves and share joy and sorrow in life, we still stay with the island."

Bình said the work of rangers here was quite hard and they often patrolled at night.

“We have to protect two particularly rare animals: sea turtles and sea cucumbers, which are the most poached species,” he said.

“In the turtle-hatching season from March to October every year, we hardly sleep at night, because we have to rescue mother turtles and take care of eggs to keep them from being stolen.”

Côn Đảo District’s population is about 8,000, but it receives 25,000-26,000 tourists including 5,000-6,000 foreigners every year.

With the belief that sea turtle eggs are beneficial to human health, and their high price of VNĐ200,000/egg, many people still take the opportunity to steal them.

Rangers had to fight and arrested thieves and strictly handled the illegal trade of the eggs, Bình said. “We are protecting 350-400 sea turtles that enter islands to lay eggs every year.”

Recently, people used boats to steal aquatic products in coastal areas.

"At night, when we are just starting to sleep, we see the distant lights, we all wake up to find their location and call the mobile ranger team on the shore to co-operate.”

“On the island, a ranger usually has a 1-2 month rotation to return home for 5-6 days off. But in stormy season, sometimes it can be longer.”

Vũ Đình Nam, deputy head of Côn Đảo National Park’s ranger team, said: "The biggest difficulty when patrolling at sea is that the violators are very active, they are ready to fight back so they can flee.”

“Last month, we discovered some subjects were illegally fishing. We asked them to stop but they resisted by cursing, then throwing bricks and stones at the ranger’s boat.

“Sometimes we have to leave, and ask for support from border military forces.

“For us, protecting aquatic resources in the sea, as well as the forest, is our task. We resolutely handle all violators in accordance with the law.” — VNS