A group of holidaymakers, who are also staffers for a travel company, went to great pains to pick up litter on Ly Son Island – an emerging retreat off central Vietnam – during a trip earlier this month.
Ly Son Island, located off Quang Ngai Province, has gained increasing appeal for its stunning landscape formed by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago.
The location, which is an outpost island, has long been known as a “kingdom of garlic” as well.
However, over recent years, Ly Son has become notorious for its rubbish, blemishing the island’s appeal and taking a toll on locals and tourists.
Earlier this month, the island welcomed a group of tourists who are employees of Oxalis Co., headquartered in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in the north-central province of Quang Binh, according to the company’s website.
The travel firm offers expeditions to Son Doong Cave – the world’s largest – and its neighboring grottos.
As tourists, the staffers traversed Ly Son’s beauty spots including Cau Cave, To Vo Dome, Duc and Hang Pagodas, clearing towering heaps of garbage that have accumulated for years.
They stuffed the foul-smelling refuse into sacks and carried it to processing sites.
Some surprised residents joined in, scraping up trash that has been stuck to the surface for years and even using their own buckets and basins as trash containers, once hundreds of nylon bags had been filled to the brim.
The group also motivated other tourists to tidy up their mess before leaving the place.
Riddled with refuse
Vacationers have been put off staying on the island, as parts of it have become unsightly and overwhelmed with litter.
“The island’s landscape is gorgeous, but litter is strewn all over the place. We were dying for a bath in the sea, but the unsightly floating refuse kept us on the shore,” Ton Nu Khanh Ngoc said, having recently traveled to the island with her colleagues and friends.
Along the 7-kilometer dyke that encircles the island and spans from An Vinh Commune to An Hai Commune, trash of various kinds, including nylon bags, plastic bottles and twigs, can be seen invading the sea.
According to statistics by the administration of Ly Son Island, 22,000 islanders and tourists create approximately 30 metric tons of refuse every day.
The trash is processed mostly by burning.
To cope with the litter “invasion,” the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has built a solid waste treatment plant on the island, with a processing capacity of around 12 metric tons per day.
However, the plant, which has been operational for four months, is only capable of processing a daily volume of two metric tons at best.
“Garbage collecting trucks are lagging far behind what the island creates. Locals keep dumping their garbage in the sea, thinking waves will wash them away, but it’s not true,” a farmer explained, readying his soil for a garlic crop near the plant.
Sightseeing and garbage collecting, why not?
The trip taken by the Oxalis staff members was organized by Viet Mark Co., a local travel firm.
Nguyen Chau My, vice general director of Oxalis, revealed that his company had planned to send their staffers on a sightseeing trip to Laos.
However, there was a change to the plan when they learned of Viet Mark’s tour, which involves collecting garbage and weeding islanders’ garlic fields.
“We hope to raise our employees’ awareness during holidays by making sure they leave behind only their footprints, not trash, and give tourists who arrive later the chance to enjoy the sights too,” My noted.
Before taking the trip, the Oxalis staffers, most of whom are under 30, had done their homework on the Internet regarding how serious the trash problem on Ly Son had become.
Nguyen Thanh Dat, 23, who has accompanied trekkers to Son Doong Cave and neighboring grottos several times, said that he, his team and his tourists have always made a point of clearing up their trash before leaving the caves and other areas in the vicinity.
He expressed his astonishment at how contaminated Ly Son had become.
Back from their trip, the Oxalis employees posted their photos on Facebook, drawing considerable attention from their friends and colleagues.
Many of them expressed their desire to also take such a garbage collecting trip to Ly Son and other islands throughout the country.
Do Tuan Anh, director of Viet Mark, revealed that his company has offered such a tour to help rid tourist attractions of refuse and boost their appeal.
“Offering tours is not only about showing vacationers attractions but also about helping to maintain the environment at each place. Only then will tourists return,” Anh noted.
The company plans to offer more such tours in the future.
“Such a trip cannot make a big difference to Ly Son overnight, but will hopefully raise the awareness of environmental protection among islanders and tourists,” Nguyen Dang Vu, director of the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism in Quang Ngai, said.
Nguyen Quoc Ky, general director of Vietravel, a major local travel firm, expressed his support for the new ecotourism model.
His company recently organized a teambuilding program for their staffers in Nha Trang, located in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa, which saw them clear up the beaches there.
Despite the presence of garbage collectors on the beach, they amassed several sacks of refuse.
Such trash picking excursions should improve locals’ health and help provide them with jobs, as untainted sights will certainly draw more visitors, Ky said.