The Phu Quoc holidaymaking retreat, managed by the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang, has seemed not to be so heavenly in recent times as beaches, the sea, rivers and streets topped with garbage have blemished the island and increasingly taken a toll on tourists and travel firms.
Renowned globally as a paradise-like island, Phu Quoc covers 589.23km² off Kien Giang.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has approved a plan to develop Phu Quoc into a special economic-administrative region administered by the central government by 2020, according to the Phu Quoc District website.
However, the holiday haven is turning worryingly unsightly with overwhelming litter.
“Litter is everywhere, both in the water and on the street,” Johns, a Canadian tourist, said, showing a Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporter a plastic bag which he had just picked up in the sea off Truong Beach.
Johns is one of the many foreign tourists who have voiced frustration over the litter that is strewn all over the neighborhood.
Local tourists are also annoyed by the nuisance.
Le Van Tam, a holidaymaker from Ho Chi Minh City, cut his foot on a glass fragment at Dinh Cau Beach, located in the heart of Duong Dong Town.
He added that this was not the first time that he had been slashed by glass fragments while swimming in the water there.
The beach is frequented by a large number of locals and tourists, as it is one of the few areas which are not blocked by resorts, hotels or restaurants.
However, the corridors along the water, which are home to pubs, are riddled with litter of different kinds, including food leftovers, plastic bags and packaging items.
The situation has also plagued local resort owners.
Nguyen Quoc Hung, technical chief of a four-star resort in Duong Dong, revealed that his staff collect some 20 to 30 sacks of garbage every morning.
Some of his staff members are also present 24/7 at the beach to clean up litter washed onshore by waves.
Similarly, the director of another resort divulged that he felt truly embarrassed as his expat guests brought litter to his office to voice their frustration.
Disillusioned tourists have spoken harshly about the serious pollution at Phu Quoc beaches on famous travel websites.
Trinh Cong Phat, the owner of a restaurant in Duong To Commune, put the litter ‘invasion’ in the neighborhood partly down to the geographical position of the island.
“During the southwestern monsoon, refuse from sea water in neighboring countries including Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia is swept by waves onto Truong Beach on Phu Quoc,” Phat explained.
Nguyen Van Ngoc, head of the Phu Quoc Public Facility Management Board, stressed that as Phu Quoc lies at the core of the southwestern bay area, trash discharged from some thousand fishing boats in the area is also likely to be swept to the island.
Meanwhile, experts added that during the northeastern monsoon, refuse from the mainland is blown into certain areas, turning Phu Quoc’s long coastline into ‘a trash shield.’
The island’s stunning seabed is also prone to pollution.
Many divers lamented that seabed pollution has been responsible for the ‘mass killing’ of coral reefs.
“If things fail to pick up, the coral reefs here will lose their appeal to tourists,” the owner of a business offering coral diving services said worriedly.
The dykes which stretch to the Duong Dong River – the island’s artery waterway – and the river itself have also been brimming with rubbish, most of which is discharged from the nearby Duong Dong Market.
According to Nguyen Van Mai, who represents the market’s investor, the market is equipped with a litter collection and sewage treatment system.
Still, many stall owners offer peddling services outside the main building at their own will, leaving behind most of the sewage and waste being dumped straight into the river.
According to the Phu Quoc Bureau of Natural Resources and Environment, apart from the market, the banks of the Duong Dong River remain lined with approximately 1,000 households and over 160 businesses who offer cuisine and catering services, and trade in construction materials and “nuoc mam” (fish sauce).
Towering piles and bags of litter have made nasty sights and emitted foul odors in urban and residential areas such as Duong Dong, An Thoi and Ham Ninh all over the island.
What is worse, at Phu Quoc’s former airport, located in Duong Dong, part of the runway has been turned into a foul-smelling makeshift landfill.
Numerous construction sites are the culprit of serious air pollution in the neighborhood.
Convoys of trucks topped with construction materials rumble past day in day out, sending masses of basalt soil, sand and rock into the air. One’s white shirt will turn yellow after only a few hours of driving on local streets.
Treatment of sewage from daily and production consumption remains a nagging problem for residents.
The sewage from daily consumption is currently pumped either directly or indirectly into the Duong Dong River and pours into the sea through the Dinh Cau Estuary.
The owner of a four-star resort on Tran Hung Dao Street lamented that he has sought help from relevant agencies again and again, to little avail.
Meanwhile, households lining Tran Hung Dao Street accused resorts of blocking their sewage pipes and thus leaving their houses flooded following downpours.
Local government powerless, travel firms take matters into own hands
Amidst the heaps of litter, one would be taken aback to learn that Phu Quoc as a whole still lacks a garbage collection and treatment system.
Meanwhile, a sewage treatment system has remained abandoned since being put in place by a local business several years ago.
Ngoc, head of the Phu Quoc Public Facility Management Board, said his unit collects a daily average of over 180 metric tons of garbage.
Travel businesses clean up sections of beaches around their facilities.
Phu Quoc has two landfills which have long been overloaded, Ngoc added. The main landfill in Cua Can Commune serves as a makeshift dumping ground only, as the plot has been given to a business that plans to build a golf course there.
Phung Xuan Mai, deputy president of the Phu Quoc Representative Office under the Kien Giang Business Association, said he has partaken in some hundred seminars and events organized to draw investment into the retreat island.
However, he stressed that provincial authorities have yet to conduct any project regarding waste treatment and environmental protection.
This certainly has clashed with the target of turning Phu Quoc into an international-scale resort and ecotourism hub.
A number of hotel owners and fish sauce businesses have no choice but to invest large sums in installing their own sewage treatment systems and take pains to collect trash.
Mai, the representative of the Duong Dong Market investor, said the company now spends a monthly sum of VND28 million (US$1,225) on refuse cleaning.