Dive on in – fishermen help restore corals in Cu Lao Cham Marine Protected Area

Location: Cu Lao Cham MPA, Viet Nam. 6th Mar 2019

Cu Lao Cham Marine Protected Area (MPA), located just a short distance from the popular tourist destination of Hoi An in Viet Nam, is renowned for its coastal and marine biodiversity.  Consisting of eight islands the MPA is home to hundreds of species of fish, seaweeds, crustaceans, and corals.  Tourism is a significant source of income for people who live in and around the MPA, however many continue to fish the waters that surround their island home.

The people of Bai Huong village inside the MPA have long relied on the sea to make a living and fishing supports 85% of households.  A local fisherman, Mr. Tran Minh Sy, goes fishing almost every day in the waters around Cu Lao Cham.  He earns around US$15 a day from his catch which helps to support his family. 

Recently the pressure on these marine ecosystems has become intense.  More demand for fish in local and regional markets has led to unsustainable fishing practices.  Increasing numbers of visitors to the area has resulted in more boats operating in near shore areas.  These issues, combined with a lack of awareness about the importance of maintaining healthy environment, have led to the destruction and damage of coral reefs around Cu Lao Cham.  

Bai Huong village, Cu Lao Cham MPA. © Nguyen Van Vu / MFF Viet Nam

Bai Huong village, Cu Lao Cham MPA.© Nguyen Van Vu / MFF Viet Nam

Recognising the need for action, the local government designated a specific area along the coast of Bai Huong village to improve management practices in collaboration with the community.  A community based management group was established to promote sustainable harvesting of fisheries resources in the area.   Despite their best efforts, it was very challenging to convince local fishermen to participate in activities because the fisherman saw ‘conservation’ as the responsibility of the government.   

To overcome this challenge, and responding to the opportunity to rehabilitate corals in the Bai Huong area, the MPA Management Board proposed to directly engage local fisherman in a project to rehabilitate 2,000m2 of coral and develop agreements for the sustainable management of coral reef areas.  The Mangroves for the Future programme decided to invest in the project to compliment other coastal resource management activities in Cu Lao Cham. 

Utilising their existing diving experience, ten local fishermen were chosen to participate in the coral rehabilitation activities.  Mr. Sy was initially hesitant to join the project as he had no experience with this type of activity, and he was concerned about whether rehabilitating the corals was possible. 

 A local fisherman diver prepares to transplant corals in Bai Huong. © Huynh Ngoc

A local fisherman diver prepares to transplant corals in Bai Huong. © Huynh Ngoc Dien / MFF Viet Nam 

“After receiving training about coral transplanting and monitoring I realised I can use my diving skills to help restore our coral reef. Now I understand that the reef is not only a critical habitat for fish but also a great tourist attraction. If we do not protect corals, our fishery resources will decline and so will the tourists.” Sy shared. Over several months Sy and the other divers transplanted more than 2,400 coral fragments into previously degraded areas. The team of fisherman divers continued to monitor the rehabilitated areas and found that 80% of the transplanted corals took hold and survived.

To help protect the coral reef in the long term, a village led regulation was developed to agree on what fishing, tourism, and other activities were permitted in the area.  The community also formed a monitoring team that patrols the reef area, collaborating with the MPA management board if any violations were encountered.

 Mr. Sy (in green) participates in a meeting with local community members to deve Mr. Sy (in green) participates in a meeting with local community members to develop village regulations. © Huynh Ngoc Dien / MFF Viet Nam 

“The corals are growing well, almost like an underwater forest.  New corals have grown from the fragments we transplanted. We also see that the diversity and number of fish in the area are increasing.  It will be important to keep working with the local community to ensure we can protect the reef”, says Mr. Huynh Ngoc Dien, Head of Communications and Community Development of Cu Lao Cham MPA.

Hearing about the success of the project, the Ministry of Science and Technology has scaled up the coral restoration activities to other areas in Cu Lao Cham MPA. Management teams from other MPAs and Locally Managed Marine Areas along the coast of Viet Nam have also visited Cu Lao Cham to learn about the co-management and coral restoration models.

A local fisherman diver prepares to transplant corals in Bai Huong.

A local fisherman diver prepares to transplant corals in Bai ... , Cu Lao Cham MPA, Vietnam © Huynh Ngoc Dien / MFF Viet Nam, 2019

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