In November 2016, a coal plant’s request to dump 1.5 million m3 of industrial wastes into a nearby marine protected area (MPA) made headlines throughout Vietnam. The request came from the coal-fired power plant complex Vinh Tan—a long known dirty station that attracted protest—and the victim is Hon Cau MPA, one of Vietnam’s very few 16 MPAs. Both are in Binh Thuan province, South Central Vietnam.
The Vinh Tan board claimed these industrial wastes were only “natural sediment’’ excavated from the surrounding seabed to make room for large cargo ships bringing in coal. However, scientists, local residents and Hon Cau MPA itself were quick to oppose the notion, citing the certainty that the dumping of dredge material will degrade the valuable marine ecosystems of Hon Cau MPA.
Hon Cau MPA takes up 12,500 hectares that house 234 coral species, 324 fish species, 119 molluscs, 32 echinoderms and 46 crustaceans and reptiles, many of which have important economic values like ornate spiny lobster, green sea turtles and hawksbill sea turtles. Hon Cau also has an abundant and diverse marine plant system, especially seagrass and algae, and provides beaches for sea turtle nesting during breeding season.
With the development of coal power industry in Binh Thuan, the Hon Cau ecosystem is facing serious threats from the current transportation and waste discharge of Vinh Tan 2 plant, the dredging plan of Vinh Tan 1 plant and of the whole five-plant complex in the future. These will affect air quality, water quality and shore quality, reducing coral reefs and causing sea life to lose habitats. Local residents also face negative health impacts from inhaling polluted air from coal plants, seeing their salt covered in coal ash and experiencing a decrease in fishing, aquaculture and tourism.
To further raise public awareness in protecting Hon Cau MPA, in February 2017 CHANGE with the support of the Government of Canada and 350.org produced a documentary on the issue, and organized the seminar titled Effects of coal power on marine ecosystems and local lives—Analyzing the case of Hon Cau MPA.
The seminar had more than 100 attendees, including representatives of the local government, of Hon Cau MPA, local businesses and residents, environmental and social institutions, and especially Mr. Richard Bale – the Consul General of Canada in Ho Chi Minh city, and representatives from other consulates.
In addition to the discourse on Hon Cau MPA, the seminar also urged communities and policy makers to pay more attention to shielding Vietnamese environment from effects of heavy industries and unsustainable economic activities.
By March 2017–three months since the Vinh Tan-Hon Cau made headlines—the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is yet to green-light the dumping to occur in Hon Cau MPA, a large part thanks to the clear and vocal concerns from the media and scientists. Insider sources indicate the dumping plan will still move ahead, but in another location.
CHANGE hopes that scientists will continue to challenge environmental impact assessments (EIA) of heavy industrial projects like this one, and that the media will continue to bring similar environmental issues to the front page to educate the public as well as to create an open dialogue with the authorities.