Snolrkelling: Coral reefs off the coast of Lý Sơn Island. VNS Photo Công Thành
Lý Sơn Island, 30km off the coast of central Quảng Ngãi Province, has had a face-lift since connecting to the national power grid in 2014. But while islanders have benefited from the rapid changes, serious environmental challenges are also arising.
Electronics shops, mobile phones, internet services and power-driven facilities have mushroomed in the island. Hotels, guest houses, restaurants and tourism service have been rapidly built as islanders seek prosperity from tourism rather than labour intensively on farms.
“It’s a great change. Power helps us light up the island. More speed-boat trips and cargo ships gradually bring the island closer to the mainland for trade, tourism and investment,” said islander Nguyễn Thanh Hùng, 54.
“It takes only an hour to travel by speed-boat between the island and mainland Sa Kỳ port. Trade has been boosted with the island,” Hùng said, adding that a sea trip between the island and mainland took one day 20 years ago.
The 54-year-old islander now makes his living from a grocery shop and a garage after two decades running a farm and fishery.
“Farmers have now increased their crops from one to four. Power equipment created higher productivity,” he said.
|Thriving: View of Lý Sơn Island from Thới Lới Mountain. VNS Photo Công Thành
According to archaeologists, Lý Sơn Island is a dormant volcano. The terrain of the island was created from eruptions 25 to 30 million years ago, leaving landscapes with rocks, caves, cliffs, rock arches and a lake.
He said a fresh water lake on Thới Lới Mountain was formerly the crater of a volcano. It is popular with visitors.
“The island has abundant relics related to the Sa Huỳnh, Champa and Đại Việt (or Great Việt) cultures that existed on the island for thousands of years,” Dr Phạm Quốc Quân, a member of the National Heritage Council, said.
“Ceramic fragments and other antiquities from archaeological excavations revealed the first community living in the island belonged to the Sa Huỳnh culture between 2,500 and 3,000 years ago.
This was followed by the Hindu Champa culture. Migrants from mainland Quảng Ngãi then settled on the island to set up the third layer of culture – the culture of the Vietnamese people,” Quân said.
“Architecture, pagodas, temples and ancestor temples were built by the Vietnamese settlers,” he said.
|Ancient: Replica of one of the boats that carried troops on patrol in the Hoàng Sa (Paracel) Islands of Việt Nam. VNS Photo Công Thành
Quân also added that the island was a safe dock for merchant boats on busy trading routes centuries ago.
He said islanders still preserved the annual Hoàng Sa festival. This is held to pay tributes to local men who enlisted in the Hoàng Sa Flotilla for hundreds of years.
The group was set up under the Nguyễn dynasty to patrol the Hoàng Sa (Paracel) and Trường Sa (Spratly) archipelagos and salvage goods from the many wrecks, catch fish and maintain a Vietnamese presence over the area.
The festival, which includes a requiem for those who had died on the sea patrol missions, a procession of four supernatural creatures and the release of lanterns, has been recognised as the National Intangible Heritage.
Lý Sơn is also known as "King of Garlic" in Việt Nam, as its farmers have produced high quality garlic and onions for the country.
The soil they were grown in was a mixture of basalt and sand taken from the sea off the beach of Lý Sơn.
Nguyễn Thị Thuận, a farmer, said garlic from the island was quite different to products that grow elsewhere in Việt Nam.
“It’s not too hot and has a sweet scent. A kilo of common multiple clove garlic could sell for VNĐ80,000 (US$3.50), but our single clove garlic could fetch VNĐ700,000 ($31) for one kilo,” Thuận said, adding her small farm of onions earned VNĐ30 million ($1,300) each crop.
Trần Minh Khánh, a hotel owner, said his income was five times higher since tourism boomed.
“Our 60-room hotel, which offer rooms from VNĐ250,000 ($11) to VNĐ800,000 ($35) are almost 80 per cent full at weekends, while we also offer bike rentals for VNĐ150,000 a day,” Khánh said. He said his family earned VNĐ50 million ($2,200) each month.
Islanders also offer home-stay services for only VNĐ60,000 ($2.60).
According to latest reports, 109 hotels, guest houses and 56 home-stays provide 650 rooms for more than 1,000 tourists each day.
The island district’s party secretary, Nguyễn Viết Vy, said the island had almost doubled its revenue since its linked with the national power grid.
Vy said so far this year, the island’s production had earned VNĐ1.5 trillion ($66 million), of which 52 per cent was from agriculture and seafood.
He added revenue per capita reached VNĐ25 million (US$1,100) per year.
Huỳnh Thị Phương Hoa, deputy director of Quảng Ngãi’s Cuture, Sports and Tourism department, said 25 per cent of the 800,000 visitors to the province also went to the island.
She said the province had planned to develop an eco-tour service and community-based tourism on the island to conserve nature.
|Homestay: Tourists explore farms at a home-stay on the island. VNS Photo Phương Hoa
|Three waves: A jar in Hoàng Sa Museum on Lý Sơn. The island has had three layers of culture - Sa Huỳnh, Champa and Great Việt. VNS Photo Công Thành
|Tasty: High quality garlic is grown in sand and basaltic soil on Lý Sơn. VNS Photo Mạnh Trinh
|Communal: A đình (communal house) at An Hải in Lý Sơn district. VNS Photo Công Thành
|Harvesrt: Farmers collect crops on Lý Sơn Island. VNS Photo Công Thành
However, one expert, Vũ Cao Minh, has warned that exploitation of beach sand for farming garlic and onions could result to damage to coral reefs around the island, while the boom in hospitality services could lead to a mass collapse of the underground water structure of the island.
Waste treatment, over-use of pesticides in farming and too many concrete structures would seriously affect the island’s landscape in coming years if no action was taken, Minh added.
National Heritage Council member Quân said the island should protect water resources in a sustainable way because over-use of underground water would cause desertification on the island.
The damage to coral reefs must be stopped, while the illegal dumping of rubbish and pollutants must be banned, Quân said.
An organic farming and environment-friendly manners should be adopted as part of sustainable development on the island, he suggested. VNS