Vietnam ill-equipped to deal with foreign invasive species

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Vietnamese officials lack legal backing and scientific wherewithal to deal with invasive species from overseas, experts say.

Professor Nguyen Dinh Hoe of the Vietnam Association for Conservation of Nature and Environment said government agencies assigned to observe and prevent the import of foreign species have failed to carry out the Environment Protection Law, the Biodiversity Law and the Ordinance on Vietnam Plant Seeds.

Tran Dinh Long, chairman of the Vietnam Seed Trade Association, agreed with Hoe, saying:

"The reason for foreign species slipping through the net is that we are yet to have instructions on implementing the laws as well as specific penalties for each violation."

And there're no regulations stating the specific responsibility of individual officials concerned, Long said.

Hoe said the recent import of invasive species was discovered by press agencies, not authorities.

Government agencies only stepped in to deal with the situation when it was too late, he said.

Long said the public are little aware of the dangers that foreign species can cause, so residents and businesses keep importing and raising them.

Over the last several years, a series of foreign species have caused remarkable damage to Vietnam's economy and environment, according to the National Environment Administration.

Mimosa pigra (Giant Sensitive Tree) or "mai duong" in Vietnamese, an American invasive species and one of the world's worst environmental weeds, first appeared in Vietnam's Mekong Delta in 1979 but has spread quickly to national parks and major lakes across the country.

The plant kills others by quickly absorbing underground nutrition and the country has spent billions of dongs to clear it without noticeable results.

The yellow snails (oc buou vang) has been Vietnam's first and biggest lesson on harmful foreign species.

Several pairs were imported in 1975 from South America and bred in ponds as a kind of food. But then they went on to become the nemesis of rice and water spinach, becoming a big issue from 1990.

The Japanese climbing fern, another invasive species, was imported in 1902. It grew fast and killed thousands of aquatic creatures as it covered the water surface and reduced the oxygen in water. It also jammed irrigation, hydropower generation and water transport systems.

Most recently, the red-eared slider turtle imported in April as an ornamental species has invaded the habitat of indigenous tortoises.

The turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans) is native to North America and was included in the list of the world's 100 worst invasive species by the Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) a global network of scientific and policy experts on invasive species, organized under the auspices of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Hoang Thanh Nhan, head of the Species, Gene Protection and Biology Safety Department under the National Environment Administration, said, "Once the imported species spread out, it won't be easy to deal with them."

Nhan said the government has launched many programs to clear out the yellow snail, but have only managed to hinder their growth so far.

"The stage of prevention is crucial but we're weak at that," she said.

Vietnamese studies on invasive foreign species to date are inadequate, and there is scant data on newly-imported ones.

The administration is working on a project to prevent and control the import of invasive species into Vietnam, identifying their names, origins and characteristics.

All centers that want to experiment with foreign species have to register with concerned ministries and guarantee that the creatures won't spread out, officials said.

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