On a recent trip to Lang Co Lagoon in Thua Thien Hue Province, an MFF small grant project site, I met Nguyen Xuan Vinh who runs a local seafood restaurant. Right at the start of the project Vinh volunteered to plant two hectares of mangroves. When asked why, he said: “I remember many rare and precious aquatic species in the lagoon when mangroves were abundant. But now the mangroves are almost gone and it’s hard to find any such species. If I can bring them back, it will bring a huge profit to my restaurant, and the only way to do that is to plant mangroves. Mangroves also help to purify the water better than any modern machine”. Vinh used the internet to teach himself how to plant mangroves and raise fish and crabs under the mangrove canopy.
At the time, however, the fragmented mangroves in Lang Co were not classified as “forest” but as ”unused” land. The area was also under the control of the Chan May-Lang Co Economic Zone and any land use change needed to be approved by the zone’s management board. And since the board prioritized economic development, it turned down Vinh’s plan to plant mangroves.
With funding from MFF, the NGO Center of Community and Research Development (CCRD) worked with local Forest Protection Department (FPD) to survey the mangroves. The survey showed that mangroves had once covered over 100 hectares of the lagoon but since the 1990s had declined sharply: today only nearly 16 hectares remain. FPD concluded that it was necessary to add these mangroves to the list of forest areas requiring proper protection and management, which also made it possible to allocate the mangroves to local people.
As a resident of Loan Ly, one of the two villages that were allocated mangroves, Vinh is now allowed to plant mangroves and gain benefits from them. He raises red snappers (Lutianus erythropterus) and mud crabs (Scylla serrata). He has invested nearly VND600 million in fish and crab seedlings, a dyke to protect the mangroves against floods, and hiring guards. He expects to break even in two years. He can sell 1 kg of red snapper at his restaurant for VND300,000 VND and 1 kg of mud crab for VND150,000.
Vinh is so keen on his fish-crab-mangrove “polyculture” that he’s interested in buying seedlings of rare aquatic species to see how they grow in the mangroves. He told us that he used to be a timber trader and now wants to do something to compensate for the damage he once caused. He also said that other fishermen, even oyster culture households, are well aware of the importance of mangroves but often have no alternative to cutting them down.
If Vinh’s mangrove polyculture model succeeds, other people will pay attention and start doing the same thing. A lesson from Vinh’s story is that only when people see real benefits from nature conservation will they be willing to protect the environment. In other words, planting, protecting, and benefit sharing are all needed for lasting mangrove conservation, a point made by Ho Trong Cau, Vice-Chair of Phu Loc District People’s Committee, in his opening speech at the community mangrove planting day in Lang Co on March 26, 2013.
Le Thi Thanh Thuy, IUCN Program Assistant and Duong Ngoc Phuoc, CCRD Project Officer