American Writer Encourages ‘Save the East Sea Social Media Campaign” 07/04/2016, 10:44:40 AM (GMT+7)

“Let’s be perfectly clear: China has no right to destroy fragile coral reefs in the Spratlys and harass coastal fishers in the East Sea”, says James Borton - a former foreign correspondent for The Washington Times. He encourages a campaign of ‘Save the East Sea Social Media”.

>>>American Writer Encourages ‘Save the East Sea Social Media Campaign”(Concluded)This interview was completed with James Borton, who has been writing about the New Viet Nam since 1997. This tireless senior reveals his passion for ocean stewardship and the need for environmental awareness about the future of the East Sea. He is an educator and is now at work on a book, Dispatches from the South China Sea about the East Sea and Viet Nam’s ancestral fishing grounds, boat builders and fishers. He recently traveled to the marine protected Cham Islands. Last year he edited, The South China Sea: Challenges and Promises.

East Sea as VN's traditional fishing grounds

Why are you so interested in Viet Nam’s environment, especially the East Sea?

I am long-term waterman, sailor and an ocean steward. Our oceans are under attack from climate change, El Nino weather patterns, sea surges, ocean acidification and the world’s voracious appetite for fish. Access to fish stocks is vital not only for Viet Nam’s fishermen but for coastal nations. The East Sea is the lifeblood for the nation’s trade and is one of the world’s richest fishing regions. It has always served as Viet Nam’s traditional, if not ancestral fishing grounds. The future will define Viet Nam’s dilemma if the present young generation does not take steps towards conservation and sustainability of the dwindling marine resources.

James Borton on Cu Lao Cham Island

What exactly are the environmental issues in the East Sea?

China’s dredging activities in Truong Sa (the Spratlys) are significantly disrupting the region’s marine environment. The Spratly Islands immense biodiversity is under attack and China is causing irreversible and widespread damage to the biodiversity and ecological balance. These views are supported by leading environmental scientists including Viet Nam’s Dr. Nguyen Chu Hoi and others. These dangers are increasing as the conflicting sovereignty claims heat up between China and Viet Nam. Let’s be perfectly clear: China has no right to destroy fragile coral reefs in the Spratlys and harass coastal fishers in the East Sea.

China's actions plunder East Sea

Can you be more specific about why Vietnamese should care or be concerned about China’s reclamation work?

The daily dumping of landfill with sand dug from nearby reefs by Chinese laborers upsets the marine ecology of the region, completely destroying the formed coral reefs some of which are hundreds of years old and in the process they destroy the habitat of many marine species. What is clear is that the complex and deeply rooted history of China and Viet Nam is not entirely about the more prominently argued issues of atolls, oil rigs, exclusive economic zones (EEZs), freedom of navigation, military surveillance or unexplored vast oil and gas reserves. Yet, the epicenter of the dispute is about food security. Fishery resources constitute an insufficiently recognized economic and symbolic element of the dispute between China and Vietnam. Protecting the marine ecological environment and ancestral fishing grounds is an East Sea issue and one that should fall into the category of being a national interest.

What are the food security issues associated in the East Sea?

While China claims to be in the “boat together” with other coastal nations, their actions especially plundering the Bien Dong Sea with their mega steel-hulled fishing trawlers and harassing Viet Nam’s traditional wooden fishing vessels, has only resulted in a race to overfish the remaining fish species. Since the 1960s, the number of fish species in the South China Sea has markedly declined from 487 to 238. Excessive and unsustainable fishing practices, as well as land-based pollution, coral reef damage and other factors, have exacerbated the depletion of fisheries. Marine scientists express concern about the soft corals, spinner dolphins, sea turtles and groupers. Overfishing remains one of the major issues that must be addressed in the East Sea because China encourages its fishermen and their behemoth fish-processing vessels to trawl in these contested waters.

Cu Lao Cham – A model to protect East Sea

You recently traveled to the Cham Islands why there?

I was invited by Dr. Chu Manh Trinh, who accompanied me to Cu Lao Cham. For the past 11 years, this 53 year-old youthful and engaging marine scientist has been traversing the 20 kilometers in the open sea from Cua Dai harbor (Hoi An) to insure the success of this marine protected area and to preserve this paradise. When he first arrived, the islands were littered with nylon bags, trash and sea animal carcasses. I learned that he embarked on a long-running mission to improve the environmental awareness of locals and enhance the islands’ allure to tourists. Wherever, we strolled on the island, the locals enthusiastically greeted him as the “professor” demonstrating respect but also as if he were a part of their family. From crab to fish catches, Trinh has provided a sea chart for their future by educating them about conservation and sustainable practices.

Can you tell us any more about this marine protected area?

Viet Nam has planned and approved marine protected areas. While many marine protected areas have either failed or only partially achieved their management objectives, I witnessed first hand this successful eco-tourism model revealing a rainbow of tropical life lurking among the hard and soft corals. On this pristine island, reached by fast boat from Hoi An’s harbor in 25 minutes, I met with local fishermen who understand and have been practicing fishing conservation and sustainability. All of the island’s residents know that the East Sea and their coastal waters is their safety net for life. I am reminded by what I read in The Ocean Life by marine biologist, Callum Roberts, “it is essential for ocean life and our own that we transform ourselves from being a species that uses up its resources to one that cherishes and nurtures them.”

(Continued in the next issue)

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