Reckless development devastating Vietnam's Nha Trang Bay

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A section of beach in Nha Trang is dug up to make way for a new hotel Photo: Nguyen Chung

Nha Trang Bay considered one of the most beautiful worldwide is being ruined by the environmentally irresponsible construction of hotels and pollution caused by tourism activities.

A project to elongate Tran Phu Road (now called Pham Van Dong Street), which runs along Bai Tien Beach, kicked off in 1999 to spur Nha Trang's tourism industry.

When the road was finished later that year, licenses began being granted to developers, who had long been waiting to acquire the beach's "golden" land plots.

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Fences were quickly erected around the new projects, right on the beach.

In the decade after Nha Trang's renovated beachside boulevard opened to traffic, long lines of trucks carrying rocks and soil became a common sight. The materials were dumped into the bay to form the foundation for new hotels and resorts.

In recent years, dozens more projects along Nha Trang's northern beach sections have been granted licenses. Construction has been completed on about half the hotels, while the rest are still being built.

All in all, more than 100 hectares (247 acres) of beach have been affected.

The Van Dang Eco-Tourism Area project funded by the Hong Hai Joint Stock Company, for instance, covers 35 hectares, 22.5 of which are in the ocean.

For several years, Hong Hai poured thousands of cubic meters of rock and soil into the ocean to make a foundation for a giant hotel complex, which has yet to be completed.

Curiously, developers which were not granted licenses have also poured soil and rocks into the bay.

In November 2011, the Focus Travel Company illegally did so in order to build a wharf. Local authorities ordered the company to stop its construction, but only imposed a paltry VND25 million (US$1,178) fine.

More curious still, the soil and rocks used by the company were never cleared away and remain on the beach to this day.

Last month, a subsidiary of Muong Thanh Hotel Corporation illegally dug up Hon Mot Beach in Nha Trang's Vinh Hoa Ward to build a spa for the Muong Thanh Hotel.

Workers excavated thousands of cubic meters of coral including that which was still alive and rocks from deep beneath the sea, piling them in heaps on the beach.

After the activity was exposed by the media, authorities demanded that the company cease construction. The firm, however, was never punished further.

The stench of neglect

The pollution in Nha Trang Bay has been discussed for years. Several solutions have been put forward by local authorities, but none of them has been effective.

The local government has been asking tourist boats operating on the bay to build restrooms with septic tanks since 2004.

Still, none of the boats are equipped with such restrooms; instead, they dump waste directly into the bay.

The sewers of Pham Van Dong Street also empty directly into the ocean. A project to improve Nha Trang's environmental hygiene kicked off in 2007, promising to collect and treat sewage, but has yet to get up and running.

When reached by Vietweek for comment, Nguyen Khac Ha, deputy chairman of Nha Trang Town People's Committee, said the local government has issued a deadline for the owners of tourist boats to install septic tanks.

Accordingly, boats that carry at least 40 tourists must have septic tanks by November 1, while the deadline for smaller boats is January 1 of next year.

Boat owners who fail to meet the deadline will be punished, he said.

The bay also suffers from the tourism industry's overexploitation of its natural resources.

Vo Si Tuan, deputy director of Nha Trang's Institute of Oceanography, said the bay's biodiversity is under siege, with aquatic resources disappearing and many endangered species on the verge of extinction.

"There are many endangered species out there, but operators of some diving tours catch them to cook for customers," he said. They offer these "special dishes to distinguish themselves from other tours."

According to the Institute of Oceanography, Nha Trang Bay's ecology especially its coral reefs is deteriorating rapidly due to tourism-related construction projects.

Le Duc Vinh, deputy chairman of Khanh Hoa Province People's Committee, said at a conference in January that his agency has the authority to approve three of four construction projects without having to ask for approval from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Bui Dung, chairman of the Khanh Hoa Architects Association, said provincial authorities should have consulted his agency and listened to the opinions of critics before approving projects that could damage the Nha Trang's beauty.

"Meanwhile, the province hired some companies in Ho Chi Minh City to plan the coast's development based exclusively on investors' demands," he said.

Truong Kinh, head of the Nha Trang Bay Management Agency, said his agency actually has no authority to manage the bay's development.

"We have made many proposals to protect the bay, but to no avail," he said.

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