Friday Lens Affair #110

Descending Dragon Bay, Vietnam

This beautiful picture of ‘Descending Dragon Bay’ was taken by Alesha Bradford. Her and Jarryd Salem are travel writers and photographers behind NOMADasaurus Blog.

They have been travelling the world together since 2008. Currently backpacking overland from Thailand to South Africa without using any air transport, they aim to promote sustainable, long-term adventure travel through documentation and images from their personal experiences. To learn more about them check Facebook and to admire even more amazing pictures Instagram.

Picture Story: Descending Dragon Bay

Shrouded in folklore and historical importance, an archipelago rising dramatically from the waters casts shadows over the South China Sea. Modern vessels decorated in an ancient style sail the ocean, allowing tourists to bask in captivating vistas. Yet while millions of people flock to Halong Bay to take their holiday snaps and drink sunset cocktails, another group of people take in a different view. For the Viet people, the “Descending Dragon Bay” is home, and has been for 18’000 years. However their claim to their native land is diminishing.

Descending Dragon Bay has been actively used for aquaculture and fishing for millennia, providing sustenance, shelter, opportunity and prosperity to the indigenous population. Today around 1000 Viets reside in floating villages, nestled against inlets and cliffs. Despite the tourism industry capitalising on the natural beauty of the area, the local people still heavily rely on fishing. Unfortunately the wealth that lines the pockets of established tour operators doesn’t filter down to the native inhabitants.

It may, or may not, come as a surprise that the people who call the floating villages home do not have any legal claim to their property. As development continues to grow in Descending Dragon Bay, more and more indigenous folk are being forcedly removed from their locations, pushed further into more remote locations. With no governmental rights to uphold, they have little chance of disputing their position.

While the Viets are being directed to find a different home, an undesired product is taking their place – pollution. Descending Dragon Bay regularly makes headlines as a “must-see attraction” in Southeast Asia. Coupled with its UNESCO World Heritage status, this ensures many people visit Vietnam with the sole purpose of exploring the limestone-speckled beauty. Yet in a nation where development has surpassed environmental education, few regulations have been put in place to preserve Halong Bay.

Every day thousands of people visit the Bay of the Descending Dragon, but current waste management procedures are not up to the task of maintaining it. As a result much of the litter and trash produced from tours inevitably finds its way into the South China Sea. One only needs to study the shores of any of the 1600 islands to witness the buildup of styrofoam, plastic and metal that was carelessly dumped back into the ocean. Paired with the runoff of oil and petroleum from fishing and passenger boats, the bay is far from being the pristine paradise it once used to be.

This naturally has a detrimental effect on the environment. Levels of marine life are declining, which puts added pressure on the Viet people. Now their livelihoods are under threat, as their most important means of survival is being removed. Without fish to catch, consume and sell, and no land to call their own, they have only one option to continue making money – supporting tourism.

The Viet people are now giving up their aquaculture careers to shuttle tourists around to visit their “authentic” floating villages. With no waste management protocols implemented for this increased personnel load, junk and debris is pumped straight back into the bay – creating a vicious cycle.

How can we help protect Descending Dragon Bay? By choosing reputable and ethical tour operators to visit the UNESCO site. Research how a company commits to saving the environment and how they inject tourist dollars back into the local community. Only support those that are transparent in their actions. The cost for such a service will be greater, and passed onto the consumer. But this is how sustainability in Halong Bay can be maintained.

The 1000 or so Viet people will continue to leave their ancient lifestyle in support of tourism. This is inevitable, but we have the power to help their transition be a positive and environmentally sustainable one. Hopefully in the near future the shadows thrown out from the monoliths will light the way for the next generation.

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