In the past, this was a peaceful and glorious watery domain, where fishermen, not unlike Cameron’s mythical “Metkayina” islanders, plied their trade and preserved their culture. Today, the area has become the focal point of global security and environmental concern, even alarm – its various zones, shoals, reefs and man-made structures the subject of conflicting sovereignty claims, the venue for clashes among fisher people and between the fishers and militias and navy, the scene of criminal brutality against the corals, and the scene of an unfolding biodiversity and ecological disaster.
In this close-knit island community, located 23.2 kilometers from Hoi An on Vietnam’s central coast, the fishermen and their families share in the harvests of crabs, seaweed, mussels, and snails. The Cham Islands lie in a marine protected area (MPA) that was established by the Provincial People’s Committee of Quang Nam Province.
Chu Manh Trinh, a tireless 60-year-old marine biologist and natural resource management expert at the University of Da Nang, has been responsible for mapping out and securing the islanders’ commitment to protect the natural resources of the Cham archipelago and its peoples’ cultural heritage and values. Locals call him “thay” or “teacher Trinh”.
Since 2010, Vietnam has been engaged in an ambitious initiative to create national MPAs. As a result, the country established 16 of these zones within a decade. With fisheries collapsing and corals dying, there continues to be an urgent need to designate more such areas.