Mekong Delta provinces discuss the importance of maintaining ecosystem services in the 5th Mekong Delta Nature and Culture Conservation Forum, Vietnam
The Mekong river is one of the largest rivers in the world, second only to the Amazon in terms of biodiversity. It includes a vast array of ecosystems including mangrove forests, rivers and streams, sand dunes, seasonal mangrove forest-grasslands, and pond and inland ecosystems. Each provides Delta residents with different, essential benefits. For local economies, these ecosystems provide rich fisheries, fruits and/or alluvium for agriculture; in addition, they protect local residents and their surrounding environment with coastline protection, erosion control, flow regulation, microclimate conditioning and carbon absorption. They are home to many rare species, especially birds, like the red Sarus Crane (Grus antigone), and fish, like the Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas).
Rapid, unplanned economic development, and unchecked population growth, as well as climate change, continually pressure these ecosystems and degrade the quality of their services . “The use of ecosystem services without proper planning has weakened or completely destroyed many [of] the Delta’s ecosystems. [They] are reduced in size, isolated, fragmented due to economic development (such as forest clearance for aquaculture or agriculture), infrastructure development, residential area enlargement, and contamination by production and wastewater. The construction of hydro dams upstream has also changed the natural flow of the river, leading to the loss of alluvium annually, and [making] the delta [even] more vulnerable to climate change. In the past, mangrove forest covered almost all coastal areas of the Delta but is disappearing rapidly. Now mangrove forest covers only Bac Lieu and Ca Mau provinces (about 77,00ha),” said Mr. Hoang Viet, Climate Change Co-ordinator of WWF-Vietnam.
Ecoystems and their services are nature’s gift to the Delta, and for many years, natural and economic development have been linked. To maintain ecosystems’ benefits to local people, an understanding of their natural cycles, as well as experience planning and protecting these habitats must be enhanced. WWF, along with Biodiversity Conservation Agency (BCA) raised this topic at the Forum for Provincial Delta Policy and Decision- Makers to allow learning from and sharing of best practices with experts from international organizations.
“Climate Change impacts on the region are already obvious; thus protecting, recovering and maintaining healthy ecosystems have become critical and must be strategic. The BCA, with technical support from WWF, other organizations and experts, has been drafting the first National Plan for Biodiversity Conservation, in which the importance of preserving and maintaining ecosystems are emphasized. Through this forum, we hope Mekong Delta provinces will have a better understanding about this issue, thus getting well prepared for developing and implementing their own plans when the National Plan is endorsed by the Government”, said Ms. Huynh Thi Mai, Deputy Director of BCA, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
According to WWF experts, the recovery and maintenance of ecosystems and their services require synchronization of local policies to ensure sustainable livelihoods for those still dependent on rice planting, fishing and aquaculture. Increasing awareness of the need for environmental protection in local communities is also critical—along with the development of Mechanisms and tools to support ecosystem service payments (PES) .
Although there are challenges to maintaining the health and integrity of ecosystems, good news has just come to Mekong River Delta: Mui Ca Mau National Park, with support from the BCA and WWF, was officially recognized as the 5th RAMSAR site, an internationally significant wetland in Vietnam and 2088th in the world, by the RAMSAR Convention Secretariat. “We are very happy. After our tireless efforts and tremendous support from the MoNRE and other related departments, Mui Ca Mau National Park was recognized as the second RAMSAR in Mekong River Delta. This will be a chance for us to attract attention, support and investment from the community, agencies and organizations locally and globally in conservation activities of the Natural Park. We see this as positive pressure to maintain and upgrade wetland ecosystem services in the area, especially in the context of increasingly complicated climate change [impacts]. The certificate-handling ceremony will be held on 13th April in the Park by the MoNRE, the Ca Mau Provincial People Committee with support from WWF and IUCN, which will also be a chance to educate the surrounding communities on the importance of protecting this land,” said Mr. Tran Van Tuan, Director of Mui Ca Mau National Park.
After the forum, it is hoped that policy makers in the thirteen Mekong River Delta provinces will better understand the importance of maintaining ecosystem services for economic and social development; learn new approaches and gain experience in planning and maintenance, with particular regards to methods to evaluate and quantify ecosystem services. With hope, decision makers will be better informed and consider the health of ecosystem services when planning to use natural resources.
Nature and Culture Conservation for Sustainable Development of Mekong Delta Forum is a WWF’s initiative to facilitate information and experience exchange among policy makers, organizations, and experts on sustainable development and nature and culture conservation of the Mekong Delta. The first forum was hold in Can Tho in 2009 on ‘Rural Sustainable Development’; in Rach Gia, Kien Giang in 2010 on ‘Adapting to Climate Change in Mekong Delta’; in Ben Tre in 2011 on ‘Adaptive Management in the Context of Climate Change’ and in Cao Lanh, Dong Thap in 2012 on ‘Wise Use of Wetland’.