Vietnam’s Mekong Delta Wetlands
Over 10 million acres of wetlands are distributed throughout Vietnam. These areas consist of several permanent and temporary billabongs, swamps, marshes, lakes, mudflats, salt marshes, fens, mangroves, coral reefs peat bogs and bodies of water – some natural, others artificial. The wetland areas in Vietnam are highly diverse and the water can be saline, fresh or brackish. It can stem from inland rivers, coastal or marine waters, or underground water sources.
The Mekong Delta is a massive wetland area of over 700,000 hectares which was previously known as the Plain of Reeds. The area is vital to the subsistence of indigenous wildlife and plants, and also of locals residing in these areas. A great variety of sectors like forestry, fisheries, agriculture, waterways, mining and tourism rely on the Mekong Delta for economic security.
Reclamation Putting Pressure on Delicate Ecosystem
In recent years the Mekong Delta wetlands have been placed under duress as its ecosystems have drastically degraded. Several factors are causing this degradation, including:
- Land reclamation projects in which natural land is changed into farmlands or fishponds
- Limitations in scientific knowledge resulting in mismanagement of wetland areas
- Acidification or alkalization of the water
- Levies being built to control and prevent flood risk causing major damage to ecosystems
- Lack of technical knowledge resulting in unsuitable and inappropriate actions
Because of these threats, the ecosystem of the Mekong Delta wetlands has suffered and the diversity of bird and fish species has drastically declined. The government of Vietnam and other organizations like the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) realized the potential impact of these threats and made the decision to implement initiatives to restore the wetlands.
The Vietnamese government launched a two-phase project with the aim of positively exploiting the Mekong Delta wetlands. In one of the first initiatives of the project dikes, canals and other irrigation systems were built. Because of these actions several major issues, including acidification, alkalization and flooding were resolved resulting in economic growth for locals. Between 2007 and 2010 WWF Vietnam worked with the Coca-Cola Company on the ‘Wetlands Restoration in the Tram Chim National Park’ project. It involved several initiatives including:
- Appropriately regulating water levels
- Implementing fire control systems
- Strengthening water exchange and connection
- Eradicating and controlling exotic plant species
- Improving the biodiversity of indigenous plant life by planting local trees and grass
- Educating locals in methods of exploiting non-timber forest products to decrease the depletion of natural resources
- Improving environmental education to raise local awareness of natural resources
The Fruits of Conservation Efforts
By taking conservation initiatives seriously, some of the areas of the Mekong Delta are being protected including Gao Giong, Lang Sen Nature Reserve, Tram Chim National Park and Xeo Quyt Nature Reserve. Other significant achievements include:
- The main food source of the Sarus crane has increased threefold
- The numbers of fish-eating birds have drastically improved
- The Tram Chim National Park received recognition as the first Ramsar site in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam