The 4th Forum on “Nature and culture conservation for the sustainable development of the Mekong Delta” was held on 21 July 2012 in the city of Cao Lanh, Dong Thap province, Vietnam. On the following day, a ceremony was organised to celebrate the Listing of Tram Chim National Park as the country’s 4th Ramsar Site and the number 2,000 site worldwide.
The forum was organised by Vietnam’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE), Dong Thap Provincial People’s Committee and WWF Vietnam, in cooperation with IUCN Vietnam and UNDP. It was opened by Dr. Nguyen Van Duc (First Vice-Minister, MoNRE) and Mr. Nguyen Van Duong, Vice-Chairman of Dong Thap Provincial Peoples’ Committee). The event brought together over 180 participants, including government officials from the central, provincial and local levels, Ramsar Site managers, NGOs, and academics.
Speakers at the forum highlighted how some 80% of the Mekong River Delta can be considered as wetlands (mainly rice fields, fish ponds canals and mangroves), with some of the more important areas having already been protected through designation as national parks, nature reserves and even one Man and Biosphere Reserve. However, the delta is facing a range of threats such as from conversion of the wetland areas for development, and intensification of the current farming systems. A potentially greater threat is that of the construction of dams in the upstream areas of the Mekong River which has reduced the amount of silt being transported to and deposited in the delta. These works have also changed the hydrology of the river such that the duration and extent of the annual flood pulse is now much reduced. With a reduction in the amount of freshwater in the Mekong River now reaching the delta and the underground aquifers, there is land subsidence and intrusion of saltwater into the delta’s agricultural lands.
The forum also heard updates from the managers of Vietnam’s three Ramsar Sites, at Xuan Thuy, Bau Sau (Cat Tien) and Ba Be. They stated that designation had generally benefited their sites through greater access to financial and technical support, and opportunities for networking. However, the three sites were still facing threats some of which were common. These included a lack of staff management capacity, the need to raise greater awareness amongst the local community about the importance of the site, and finding a balance between the conservation of the site and its use by the local community. In many cases, the site management has to find sustainable livelihood mechanisms for the community in order to reduce pressure on natural resources which were being over-exploited. All the three managers agreed that it was important to involve the local community decision making at the site.
The meeting also heard presentation from representatives of other sites in the Mekong River Delta that had the potential to be designated as Ramsar Sites in future. These were Mui Ca Mau, Lang Sen and U Minh Thuong.
The celebration of the designation of Tram Chim as a Ramsar Site was a colourful event that was well attended by local officials, members of the local community and students. Speeches by dignitaries highlighted the importance of the site as being the last remnant of the previously more extensive ‘Plain of Reeds’, for providing water, food and resources for the local community and for its unique biodiversity. They also thanked all the local and international experts and organisations, e.g. International Crane Foundation, IUCN and WWF who had worked tirelessly over the past 25 years to conserve this unique site. The event finished with a guided boat tour through Tram Chim including a visit to one of the watch towers which gave commanding views over the whole site.
Report and photos by Lew Young, Senior Advisor for Asia-Oceania, The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands