HANOI (AFP) – Vietnam has banned swimming and scuba diving at a popular central tourist spot in a bid to revive its damaged coral reef, officials said Monday.
The communist nation boasts over 3,200 kilometers of coastline with crystal clear waters, vibrant marine life and sandy beaches that are a huge draw for tourism.
Southeast Asia’s coral reefs have been hit hard by global warming, with scientists warning their degradation could have devastating environmental and economic repercussions.
Recent photos taken off Hon Mun Island – about 14 kilometers from Nha Trang city and popular with divers thanks to its diverse ecosystem – showed the reef bleached and damaged.
“The Nha Trang Bay Management Authority has decided to halt swimming and scuba diving activities in areas around Hon Mun Island,” officials said.
In a statement, they said the ban was to “assess the condition of the sensitive area so that an appropriate plan to enact the sea conservation area” could be developed.
As of Monday, the ban will last “until further notice”, they added.
About 60% of the region’s coastal bed was covered in live coral in 2020, according to state media, but more recent findings showed it had dropped to less than 50%.
Previously, local authorities attributed the shrinking ecosystem to climate change, noting that powerful storms in 2019 and 2021 damaged the coral.
They also blamed illegal fishing, dredging, construction of industrial parks and waste disposal.
Divers have expressed their anger over the decision to close the waters.
“Swimming and diving activities have the least influence on coral reefs, compared to other activities,” diver Nguyen Son, from Ho Chi Minh City, told AFP.
“The ecosystem (around Hon Mun) should have recovered after two years of the pandemic,” said diver Trinh Ngoc Sang.
“Without good management, the fishing boats came in and destroyed the seabed,” he told AFP, recalling the sight of rubbish and dead coral during a recent dive.
“It would take decades for the coral reefs to be restored, so they want to shut everything down?”
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that 4.5 million people in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region could be affected by damaged coral reefs.
Reefs are home to around 25% of marine biodiversity.
Vietnam’s decision follows a similar decision in Thailand, which restricted access to Maya Bay – immortalized in Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘The Beach’ film – to give the local ecosystem a chance to recover.