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A $9.3 billion residential and tourism development has been approved within the buffer zone of the Can Gio Mangrove Biosphere Reserve here in this city of 13 million, the largest urban area in Vietnam. The project was proposed by the Can Gio Tourism Urban Area Joint Stock Company, a subsidiary of Vinhomes, the real estate arm of Vingroup, the country’s largest private company. The Can Gio Tourist City would span 2,870 hectares (7,100 acres), largely on land that would be filled in along the South China Sea coast using sand.

The 75,740-hectare (187,200-acre) reserve was established in 2000 and is overseen by a local management board. Home to one of the world’s largest rehabilitated mangrove forests, it protects the area from storm surges while also acting as a “green lung” for a heavily industrialised region.

The projected completion date for the Vinhomes development is 2031, when planners expect 230,000 people will live there long-term, and about 9 million tourists will come and go annually. In comparison, just over 70,000 people currently live in Can Gio (pronounced similarly to ‘yo’), the largest of Ho Chi Minh City’s 24 districts by area.

Tourism development in Can Gio has been relatively slow, as the region can only be reached by ferry, but construction of a huge bridge linking the district to the rest of Ho Chi Minh City is expected to begin in 2022, making it easier to reach.

The response to the approval of the “tourist city,” which was first proposed in 2000 but was stalled until Vinhomes took over the project, has been largely negative. The company increased its original planned size from 821 hectares (2,030 acres) to 2,870 hectares.

In early July, 23 prominent environmentalists, academics and researchers sent a petition calling for an independent assessment of the project to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City, the legislative National Assembly, and other government bodies. It is rare for Vingroup to be publicly criticised in Vietnam, as the company is known to react aggressively to such complaints.

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An English-language version of the petition shared with Mongabay says the planned development “poses a serious threat on the Can Gio mangrove forest, which in turn may lead to a series of harm to the urban regions of HCMC, whose population and authority are already facing major environmental challenges such as pollution, floods and land collapses.”

The petition is now online, in both English and Vietnamese, and had been signed by more than 5,900 people at the time of writing. It adds that the project poses huge threats related to erosion, flooding and water stagnation, all of which could have serious environmental and social impacts, while also threatening the integrity of Can Gio’s unique, important mangrove ecosystem.

The Nikkei Asia Review reports that 138 million cubic meters (4.9 billion cubic feet) of sand would be needed to reclaim land for the project. Some media reports have said this sand would be dredged from the nearby Mekong Delta, which is already facing serious subsidence due to sand mining and a loss of sediment caused by upstream dams. None of the activists contacted for this story would speak on the record, even anonymously, for fear of retaliation from Vingroup or the police. One environmentalist said they had been repeatedly harassed by the police for their outspoken criticism of the project on Facebook.

Vocal activists can face serious consequences for their actions here. In 2017, an environmental blogger known as Mother Mushroom was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “conducting propaganda against the state” following a major environmental disaster. She was eventually released early and now lives in exile in Houston.

Vingroup did not respond to requests for comment on the project.

While detailed plans of Can Gio Tourist City aren’t public, one satellite rendering shared widely on social media shows a huge stretch of land, including a large artificial lake, tacked on to the southern end of Can Gio, where the district meets the East Sea, as the South China Sea is known here.

This means there would not be construction within the heavily restricted core area of the mangrove biosphere reserve.

However, it is a delicate ecosystem.

Mangroves in general are highly sensitive to changes in hydrology and sedimentation,” said Marie Arnaud, a research fellow at the University of Birmingham who has conducted extensive research on Can Gio. “For example, if you decrease sediment supply, then you might have erosion of the mangrove’s land, which can cause mangrove loss. It has been observed in many parts of the world, mostly due to upstream sand mining, but it has also been observed from areas which have been dredged.”

The Vinhomes development would be downstream from the mangroves, but it is not clear where the sand used to reclaim land will come from. Adding thousands of hectares of land just a few miles from the reserve will have an impact.

“If they dredge sand to create land or build, they’ll hurt the sedimentation and the hydrology of the mangroves,” Arnaud said. “Then, those buildings are static, while normally this area is quite dynamic. This means that there will be sand accumulation in some spots, but also places where the soil will be eroded because the dynamic is moving.”

Some supporters of the plan have noted that it will not be located within the mangrove reserve’s core, but Marc Goichot, WWF freshwater lead for Asia Pacific, says this doesn’t mean it makes sense.

“If it’s closer to the coast, it’s not necessarily better because again, it’s dynamic,” he said. “If the area is a marsh or partially or completely on the water, then they’re going to dredge material out from the riverbed, which will starve the coast of its replacement sediment and put at risk the entire existing system.”

He went on: “Even if they bring material in from far away, which they probably won’t because it would be expensive, then you’re burying the area and changing the ecosystem completely, and the dynamic of currents and the movement of nutrients.”

This would impact fisheries and aquatic life in the area. The huge number of people that the Can Gio Tourist City would attract, meanwhile, will also create problems.

“This might induce pressure on local fish, crabs and bivalves,” Arnaud said. “People from [central] Ho Chi Minh City like to go to Can Gio to eat seafood because it’s cheaper, but if so many come it might really decrease the density of the fauna. And if people are not sensible, you’ll have a lot of plastic pollution, and possibly sewage runoff as well.”

Then there is the placement of the development, directly on the coast.

“This project will be high-risk,” Arnaud added. “With climate change, you have storms that are becoming more frequent and stronger, you have sea level rise, and this touristic spot will be at the front of all of this.”

Featured image by: Flickr

This article was originally published on Mongabay, written by Tim Rist, and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org.

 

According to a new study commissioned by the Campaign for Nature charity, increasing protection for and preserving up to at least 30% of the planet’s land and oceans would bring economic and non-monetary benefits that outweigh the costs 5-to-1. Currently, only about 15% of the world’s land and 7% of the ocean have some level of protection. Additional protections, with investments up until 2030, are predicted to lead to an average increase of $250 billion in economic output and $350 billion in improved ecosystem services annually when compared to the present day.

Ecosystems around the world are facing total collapse, with a million species threatened with extinction. However, according to the report, an estimated investment of $140 billion per year up to 2030 to place 30% of the earth’s land and sea under protection may help avoid this mass extinction and restore important habitats while also bringing in additional benefits across multiple sectors, including agriculture, fisheries, forestry and the nature conservation sector. The nature conservation sector is reported to be one of the fastest growing sectors and is predicted to grow at 4-6% per year as compared to less than 1% for the agriculture, fisheries and forestry industry. 

The natural environment plays an extremely important role in supporting economic activity, both directly, by providing resources and raw materials required as inputs for production of goods and services, and indirectly, through services that are provided by our ecosystem such as water purification, flood risk management, coastal protection and nutrient cycling. Therefore, it is critical to secure natural resources for economic growth and development, not only for today but for future generations to come. 

Economic growth requires the combination of different types of capital to produce goods and services, including produced capital, human capital, natural capital and social capital. Unlike the others, natural capital, such as water, land, and fossil fuels, has non-renewable and finite elements with thresholds beyond which dramatic changes may occur, which may be irreversible. Therefore, since natural capital plays a substantial role in producing economic growth, it needs to be used sustainably and efficiently to ensure growth in the long run. 

Ecosystem services also play an important role in tackling global warming. While they are a part of the solution to the climate crisis, they are also affected by it. Well-managed ecosystems help societies adapt to climate hazards and changes by providing a range of services, including climate regulation, that reduce vulnerability to climate variations in agriculture and cities at a regional and continental scale, as well as protection of coastal areas and watersheds. However, there will be a gradual negative impact on these services due to the changes in temperature and other threats such as pollution, over-exploitation of resources etc. This means that there would be a need for investment into man-made provision of these services that are already being provided by nature. By preserving ecosystems, this future cost can be avoided. For example, the effects of climate change can be devastating to vulnerable coastal areas and increased sea level would contribute to flooding and coastal erosion. To combat this, coastal protection structures would have to be put in place, the cost of which could come up to £39 billion, depending on the type of structure. These would include costs of design, construction, operation and maintenance, monitoring and replacement.

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Furthermore, the investment into preserving more of nature is much lower in comparison to the economic benefits it would bring and to the financial support that is given to other sectors. According to Enric Sala, co-author of the report, investing in protecting nature would represent only 0.16% of global GDP and would actually be less than one third of the amount the government already spends on subsidising activities that play an active role in destroying nature. In 2015, global fossil fuel subsidies were as high as $4.7 trillion, 6.3% of the global GDP

Preserving nature also benefits mental and physical health. Not only does the natural environment provide capital for production of goods and services, exposure to nature also boosts human mental health and wellbeing. Poor mental health imposes major costs on economies, caused by poorer efficiency and productivity at the workplace. A study estimates that the global economic value of national parks based on the mental health of its visitors, may be up to $6 trillion annually.

Furthermore, protecting nature reduces the risk of new zoonotic disease outbreaks such as COVID-19, which, as predicted by the June 2020 Global Economic Prospects, will cause a 5.2% contraction in the global GDP in 2020. Experts have suggested that the rise of zoonotic diseases can be blamed on high demand for animal protein, unsustainable agricultural practices, exploitation of wildlife and the climate crisis, which has changed the way that animals and humans interact with each other. As said by the UNEP Executive Director Inger Anderson, pandemics have a devastating effect on human lives and economies and to prevent future outbreaks, we must increase our efforts in protecting the natural environment. 

While there would be a short-term cost of $140 billion annually by 2030, it would avoid depletion of natural resources and ecosystem services, both of which directly and indirectly aid economic growth. Nature preservation and exposure has a positive impact on mental health, which in turn would boost efficiency, as well as physical health, by reducing the risk of zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19.  

 

Policy makers and scientists from China, the US and other countries recently gathered to discuss China’s plans to create a unified national park system. Supposedly taking inspiration from Yellowstone Park in the US, the system aims to limit development and protect ecosystems. China plans to complete 10 national parks by the end of 2020. 

The conservation efforts come after a development spike in the Xining area in central China that is characterised by an increasing number of skyscrapers, highways and high-speed railways. The region, called the “rooftop of the world” and ringed by the world’s tallest mountain ranges, is now a pivotal part of China’s latest modernisation plan.

This time, however, China aims to limit the region’s growth to incorporate its own version of the US’s proudest legacy: a national park system.

Zhu Chunquan, the China representative of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a Swiss-based scientific group, noted that China’s economy has spiked over the past 40 years, however priorities are now encompassing conservation infrastructure to protect the country’s key natural resources. “It’s quite urgent to identify the places, the ecosystems and other natural features to protect,” Zhu said.

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Chinese Version of Yellowstone

China plans to build its own Yellowstone on the Tibetan plateau. Zhu, who is also a member of the advisory committee providing input on the development of China’s budding national park system, says the plan is likely to be revealed later this year. 

Chinese officials visited US national parks, including Yellowstone and Yosemite, and sought input from numerous organisations like the Paulson Institute in Chicago.

The plan to generate a unified park system represents, “a new and serious effort to safeguard China’s biodiversity and natural heritage,” Duke University ecologist Stuart Pimm says. 

The Pilot Park

The first park will be situated in Qinghai province, a region in western China close to Tibet, and will be named the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve. The region is home to approximately 128 000 people who live in or around the planned park’s boundaries, including many Tibetans.

The region is also home to native and endangered species like the snow leopard and Chinese mountain cat, and encompasses the headwaters of three of Asia’s great waterways, namely the Yangtze, Yellow and Mekong rivers.

Drawing Inspiration From Yellowstone

Created in 1872 and recognised as the world’s first national park, the US government forced Native Americans who lived in the area to resettle outside the park boundaries with the aim of obliging to 19th-century regulations of wilderness protection. Other countries who establish park systems today must consider the livelihoods of local populations.

In the past, China’s resettlement programs, which cleared land for large infrastructure projects like the Three Gorge Dam, left many farmers in new homes without adequate agricultural fields or access to other livelihoods.

However, in the case of developing national parks, the government is distributing conservation-related jobs to people living in or around the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve. Locals can therefore stay and work on their land through the “One Family, One Ranger” program, which hires one person per family for 1 800 yuan (US$259) a month to collect trash, monitor for poaching and other duties.

Biodiversity and Landscape Usage

A recent “national ecosystems assessment” examined China’s land changes between 2000 and 2010 with the help of 20 000 satellite images and 100 000 field surveys. Ouyang Zhiyun, deputy director at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Research Centre for Eco-Environmental Sciences and leader of the assessment, is currently referencing the work to map priority areas for conservation and advise park planners accordingly, with a focus on endangered species’ habitats that are endemic to China.

China’s 13th Five Year Plan

The environment and sustainability considerations have been previously stressed in China’s 12th Five Year Plan. Improvements, however, in efforts to achieve a greener society and economy is further expressed in the 13th Five Year Plan, that includes adjustments to previous ambitions, and added targets and goals to accelerate green goals.

One of China’s major objectives in the 13th Five Year Plan is to ‘achieve an overall improvement in the quality of the environment and ecosystems’. Specifically, this objective outlines an ambition to transform current modes of production and ways of life to become more eco-friendly. In order to achieve this, China plans to improve energy efficiency, control land used for construction, reduce energy and water consumption and reduce emissions of major pollutants.

Chapter 43 aims to control ‘the amount of additional land designated for construction projects and bring under effective control the disorderly expansion of new cities, new districts and development areas’.

Chapter 45 outlines a slew of biodiversity conservation projects, including nature reserves and protection of ecosystems, species, genes and landscape diversity. This will be achieved with the help of background surveys and evaluations and improvements to biodiversity observation systems. The government says, “We will ensure the proper planning and development of facilities and parks for the biological resources protection and promote the development of gene banks and artificial breeding centers for wild fauna and flora species.”

The plan also includes a circular development target, with the hopes of upgrading 75% of national industrial parks and 50% of provincial-level industrial parks.

Furthermore, in regards to traditional culture and natural heritage, the plan outlines a target of building national cultural parks and to improve facilities for their protection and utilisation.

The national park system falls in line with the goals of the 13th Five Year Plan, and demonstrates the sincerity and seriousness of China achieving the outlined environmental objectives.

Hidden behind its urban facade, Hong Kong is home to numerous nature reserves. In fact, 75% of Hong Kong land is actually rural and nearly pristine- making the stark contrast between skyscrapers and nature even more alluring. Here are 10 nature reserves and natural landmarks in Hong Kong that you need to visit. 

1. Tai Mo Shan Country Park

Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s highest mountain, has a height of 957 meters and its surrounding country park holds the record for the highest rainfall and coldest temperatures in the region. The country park is also home to the city’s tallest waterfall, at 35 meters in length. 

The park is also home to more than 100 species of birds and butterflies, as well as snakes, like the bamboo snake, which occasionally makes an appearance along the hiking trails. 

2. Kam Shan Country Park

Known as a monkey haven and located in the North of Kowloon, Kam Shan Country Park is the perfect habitat for macaque monkeys, who are notorious for stealing food straight from visitors’ hands. The park includes four reservoirs, all of which were built and completed in the early 1900s- namely, Kowloon Reservoir, Shek Lei Pui Reservoir,  Kowloon Reception Reservoir and  Kowloon Byewash Reservoir. 

The country park also holds historic value. A section of the former British military defence system, Gin Drinker’s Line, intercepts Kam Shan and runs along the mountains of the Kowloon Peninsula, spanning a total length of 18 kilometers. Built in the late 1930s, the defensive line is in fact a series of defence bunkers linked together by paths featuring concrete fortified machine gun posts, trenches and artiliterry batteries.

3. Tai Po Kau Special Area

An ideal area to spot local species of flora and fauna, the less recreational and more preserved forest allows visitors to seek refuge from the dense city. Tai Po Kau Special Area is recognised by the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society as one of the best places to observe rare birds and insects.

4. Lion Rock Country Park

Not far from Kam Shan Country Park sits Lion Rock Country Park in the New Territories, spanning an area of 557 hectares and including two famous peaks: Lion Rock and Amah Rock. The hiking trail is challenging and steep, however the views along the way and at the top are worth the exertion. Amah Rock is the first peak and smaller rock formation in comparison to Lion Rock, the second and taller peak.

5. Hong Kong Wetland Park 

Hong Kong Wetland Park is located in the New Territories and has become a hub of conservation, eco-tourism and education due to the efforts taken to protect a variety of species that roam there. Among many of the animals residing in the region is Pui Pui the crocodile, Hong Kong’s lovable reptilian mascot, who attracts many tourists and locals alike.

Also considered a reserve, Hong Kong Wetland Park specialises in ecological monitoring and habitat management, and provides information on different species in order to increase awareness on the importance of biodiversity conservation. 

The stream walk, mangrove boardwalk, the bird hideouts and fish ponds make this wetland park an all-encompassing wildlife conservation site. 

6. Mai Po Nature Reserve 

Managed by WWF Hong Kong since 1983, the 380 hectare nature reserve is home to thousands of migratory waterbirds and a variety of wetland habitats including gei wais, mangroves, intertidal mudflats and reedbeds. 

Because of the biodiversity, the Mai Po Nature Reserve and the surrounding Inner Deep Bay wetlands are examples of the successful conservation efforts in Hong Kong.

7. Kiu Tsui Country Park

Resembling Thailand for its tropical scenery, the Kiu Tsui Country Park in Sai Kung includes beautiful white sandy beaches that resemble those typically seen at holiday destinations. A private ferry service along the Sai Kung promenade transports visitors to Hap Mun Bay or Kiu Tsui, also known as Sharp Island, where a day out in the sun can be enjoyed.

8. East Dam of High Island Reservoir 

One of the most popular sites within the Hong Kong Geopark is High Island in Sai Kung Peninsula, known for its spectacular rock formations which formed around 140 million years ago. 

The High Island Geo Trail tours the region and leads to the shore, where a sea cave lies at the water’s edge. From there, a wooden boardwalk leads to a lookout point that shows visitors the beautiful region devoid of human settlement.

Completed in the 1970s, the East Dam is located on the east side of the Kwun Mun Channel and encompasses a forgotten fishing village that is now submerged.

9. Lantau South Country Park

One of the two country parks on Lantau Island, Lantau South Country Park spans approximately 56 square kilometres and borders with Lantau North Country Park.

Lantau peak, the highest summit on the island in Lantau South Country Park, is known for being the perfect spot to watch the sunrise and sunset, and attracts locals and tourists alike for this very reason. 

The park also includes activities such as camping, fishing, swimming and biking, making it an adventurer’s paradise.

10. Tai Tam Country Park

Tai Tam Country Park is the largest park on Hong Kong Island and comprises one fifth of the Island’s land mass, spanning a total area of 1 315 hectares

The Tai Tam Waterworks Heritage Trail includes 21 historic waterworks, including aqueducts, dams and masonry bridges, of which many have been declared monuments. The trail spans 5 kilometers, is family-friendly and takes approximately two hours to complete. 

In addition to the waterworks trail, the country park includes an array of other hiking trails that vary in difficulty levels. 

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Hong Kong has more to offer than what meets the eye. Known as one of the business epicenters of Asia, and regarded for its tall skyscrapers, Hong Kong also maintains beautiful nature reserves, with mountainous landscapes, beautiful wetlands, country parks, historic sites and more- making the city a diverse concrete jungle. 

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