Story | 30 Jul, 2018

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”: art from plastic in Bai Tu Long National Park

“This is the first time I visited Minh Chau Island and my first impression is that the beaches are so beautiful. However, I see lots of trash especially plastic waste and foam on the beaches. I decided to participate in this programme as I believe in personal changes as one saying goes “The nature itself does not need you to protect, it just needs you to have environmentally friendly behavior, not throwing trash unsightly. That’s the best way!” - Ms. Cao Thanh Tha, IUCN artist volunteer.

Established in 2011, Bai Tu long National Park is located in to the Northeast of Ha Long Bay WHS.

Minh Chau Island, situated in the core of the national park is a famous tourist destination with 45,000 visitors in 2017. According to Bui Danh Liem, vice-chairman of the commune people’s committee, the commune does not have the budget to invest in effective infrastructures for solid waste collection and treatment. There is just one incinerator for both Minh Chau and Quan Lan Island and the problem is growing as the number of visitor increases.

Plastic waste found on the beach in Minh Chau       Photo: Plastic waste found on the beach in Minh Chau © IUCN Viet Nam

Since 2006, IUCN has worked with the national park on marine turtle conservation. Economic development and by-catch pose threats to the turtles’ lifecycle. In order to better protect the species, the park has banned swimming and the construction of lodgings, restaurants and cafes which all threaten habitats and nesting beaches of the turtle populations.

In parallel, many awareness-raising activities have taken place to reduce plastic litter and further protect marine turtles and their nesting beaches. On June 3-8 2018, IUCN partnered with the national park and GreenHub for a volunteer program aiming to increase awareness among locals and visitors about their single-use plastic consumption and the related environmental impacts. This campaign was part of the “Support for community-based marine turtle nesting beach conservation and bycatch reduction in Viet Nam” project, financed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. Volunteers were invited to create art work from marine plastic and polystyrene under the theme of “I love the ocean and born to be wild”. 

“Help” shows a sea turtle stuck in a cyclone of plastic bottles by Dau Quyet Tien made from foam and plastic bottles       Photo: “Help” shows a sea turtle stuck in a cyclone of plastic bottles by Mr. Tien made from foam and plastic bottles © IUCN VN

Before creating the art work, nearly 100 locals were trained on how to classify recyclable and non-recyclable trash and on how to reduce plastic use in the first place. They then joined the coastal cleanup on Minh Chau beach. In two hours, they collected 140 kg of waste, mostly expanded polystyrene with smaller amounts of plastic bags, fishing nets, and hazardous detritus.

Artists used thousands of plastic bottles, cups, caps and pieces of polystyrene to produce eight art pieces which are displayed in the national park. For photos of the artwork, click here.

Coincidentally, on June 7, a 20 kg Green turtle, classified by IUCN as Endangered, was accidentally caught by a fisherman and reported to the park. It was released back into the sea on the last day of the artwork program. This was a fitting end and thanks to long-term effort from the park, most fishermen now release turtles that they catch accidentally.

A green turtle released by Mr. Phan Thanh Nghi Deputy Director of Bai Tu Long National Park       Photo: A green turtle released by Mr. Phan Thanh Nghi Deputy Director of Bai Tu Long National Park ©