Tragedy of the commons

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Ordinary Vietnamese citizens including fishermen are cut off from the country's beautiful beaches by rampant privatization, legal and illegal

A tourist reads a book on a beach in the coastal resort town of Nha Trang. The mushrooming of resorts along the coast in central and southern Vietnam has resulted in the de facto privatization of beaches that have made exclusive preserves of public spaces.

Officials in coastal provinces insist that beaches belong to the public, but the public know otherwise.

Pham Van Dung, who has lived for nearly 30 years in Phan Rang Thap Cham Town in the central province of Ninh Thuan, said the beautiful Binh Son Ninh Chu Beach, fringed by a forest of casuarinas, was a place for local people to relax and also earn a living.

But now the five-kilometer long beach "belongs" to investors of hotels and resort projects, and nearly 200,000 people in the town are forced into a small adjacent beach, he said.

Duong Van, another resident, said after the resorts were established, locals and tourists cannot see the sea anymore while walking on streets near the coast.

Businesses have erected fences all over the place, including right on the beach, and it gives the place an ugly look, Van said.

At some beaches like Ninh Chu, which is managed by the Saigon Ninh Chu Tourism Joint-stock Company, people are charged VND10,000 (US$0.52) each for admission, Dung said.

Similar situations are reported in other coastal resort localities like Phan Thiet Town in the central province of Binh Thuan, where nearly 300,000 people share a small "public" beach.

The expulsion of the public from the beaches also includes fishermen whose very livelihood depends on the sea.

Fisherman Truong Le Quang from Phan Thiet's Ham Tien Ward said some 60 local families living on fishing now have a 12-meter long beach next to the Hoa Binh Resort, and they are turned away by the resort's guards if they happen to leave their fishing tools over the "border."

People in the central city of Da Nang have also complained their access to the beach has been narrowed down because over 40 tourism projects have taken up hundreds of hectares of coastal land.

Huynh Van Em, who lives in Phu Quoc District in the southern province of Kien Giang, said people now do not have any way to get to the beaches, as all the ways are blocked by resorts, hotels and restaurants.

District authorities had once announced that they would open some entry points for local people but so far nothing has been done, Em said.

Some tourists are also affected by this uncontrolled privatization of public property.

Nguyen Van My, director of the Lua Viet Tourism Company, complained many of his customers have to rent places to bathe in the sea if they do not live in coastal hotels or resorts.

"Many resorts with stars don't allow outside tourists to enter "˜their' beaches," My said.

At the Sihanoukville Beach in Cambodia, investors are given about one kilometer of beach, but the rest is retained for locals to do business by renting out chairs and umbrellas, and the Phuket Beach in Thailand is maintained similarly, My noted.

In fact, it is not uncommon that tourists return to their hotels in wet clothes or bathing suits in cars after bathing in the sea in Phu Quoc, as also Mui Ne in the coastal province of Binh Thuan.

Danny Hoang, a Vietnamese-Australian, said he and his friend walked for several kilometers but could not find a way to the beach in Mui Ne without entering one of the resorts.

His friend, James Phan, said, "We were just several steps from the sea, but we couldn't get there! How can poor people afford charges to enter the resorts to bathe in the sea the sea in their own hometown?"


Tran Thinh, former director of Binh Thuan Province's Department of Trade and Tourism, said a plan to zone Mui Ne years ago included a way to the beach for local people, but "somehow now there is no such way."

According to Thinh, local authorities never allow businesses to "block" entrances to the sea.

"However, now many businesses protect and clean beaches by themselves, while local people rarely come to bathe, so many people think that the beaches belong to the businesses," Thinh said.

Luong Van Hai, director of Binh Thuan's Department of Planning and Investment, also said that beaches, in fact, do not belong to investors, but they are the only ones managing and taking care of them with billions of dong.

Tourists and resort owners are reaping the benefits of beautiful and clean beaches, according to Hai.

However, Hai admitted that those who prepared the plan to zone Mui Ne Beach in 1995 did not expect that it would develop so strongly with so many resorts.

Paul Stoll, who initiated the World Heritage Road, a tourism initiative in central Vietnam implemented by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, warned that building numerous coastal resorts was an unsustainable way to develop beaches.

Beaches are slices of cakes for speculators, but so far related agencies are yet to come up with suitable strategies to develop them, Stoll said.

Hundreds of families who live on fishing and aquaculture have had to move and give up land to coastal tourism projects, only to end up having their access to the sea blocked by suspended projects, he said.

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