Unplanned stone mining is denigrating the beauty of the Dong Van Stone Highlands, Vietnam's first UNESCO-recognized geopark, local newspaper Tuoi Tre reported.
Various machines are operating throughout the highlands in the northern province of Ha Giang, breaking and grinding stones to clear sites for the construction of residential areas, markets and hydropower plants among other things, the news source reported.
"If [individuals and organizations] apply for mining [stones], they will be licensed to do so, but they have to follow zoning plans, meaning that they have to [set up mining sites] far from roads, at least two kilometers, so they don't affect the park's beautiful vistas," Ma Ngoc Giang, Director of the Dong Van Geopark Management Board, was quoted as saying.
Local people, meanwhile, continue to use stones for everything from fences to walls, the paper reported.
In fact, while authorities said they are conducting a project to enhance the awareness of 230,000 about the protection of the highlands' geological heritage, locals told Tuoi Tre that they have never heard about any "protection campaign."
Because they lack the equipment needed to harvest large stones, they often choose stones' peaks. The Van Chai Stone Seal Beach and the Stone Flower Forest are locals' favorite targets because they are easy places to cut small precious stones.
As a result, the stone highlands, which was the second in the South East Asia to be recognized as a member of UNESCO-supported Global Geoparks Network (GGN) on October 3, are now addled by dusty scars.
A geopark, according to GGN, is a nationally protected area containing a number of geological heritage sites of particular importance, rarity or aesthetic appeal.
In an interview with Tuoi Tre, Pham Quang Tan, Chairman of Meo Vac District one of the four districts that border Dong Van, said that they have initiated plans to zone mining sites to protect the 574.35-square-kilometer park's valuable resources and told locals about the plans.
However, it's unadvisable to absolutely ban stone mining, because it would be costly to transport construction materials from other places, considering the park's tough topography, Tan said.
Giang said it's impossible to prohibit local people from mining stones, "but, instead, we need to show them another way of developing the local economy, home building and extending fields."
It's also necessary to break stones for construction sites, according to Giang.
Local authorities, however, need to establish clear zones and strictly protected areas in addition to protecting the park's views and local livlihoods, he said.
Trinh Danh, former director of the Vietnam Geology Museum, meanwhile, suggested identifying important heritages at Dong Van and then strictly protecting them.
Local authorities can allow people to mine certain areas of the park on condition that they won't harm to the heritages.