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Female engineers dedicated to preserving Vietnam’s marine life

Wednesday, February 06, 2019, 14:58 GMT+7
Female engineers dedicated to preserving Vietnam’s marine life
Phuong Thao (right) is seen at work under the sea. Photo: Le Xuan Ai

In the deep sea off the coast of Cu Lao Cham, a set of islets near the central Vietnamese province of Quang Nam, two young female engineers are doing whatever they can to protect the local marine environment.

Tran Thi Phuong Thao and Nguyen Thi Hong Thuy aren’t shy about admitting that marine preservation is their passion.

These two young women are making waves in the country’s environmental community, not just for their passion, but because of the barriers they are breaking as two of the very few women working in the marine preservation sector, particularly scuba-diving, in Vietnam.

A female engineer is seen at work under the sea. Photo: Le Xuan Ai
A female engineer is seen at work under the sea. Photo: Le Xuan Ai

Half the day in the sea

Cu Lao Cham, or the Cham Islets, is an island cluster administrated by Tan Hiep Commune, Hoi An in Quang Nam Province. It is located 18 km from the city’s Cua Dai coast and recognized as a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO.

Cu Lao Cham is the best-preserved Vietnam’s many islands, according to scientists. 

Recently, the islets have become popular amongst tourists for its exciting ‘walking under the sea’ tour. 

The waters off Cu Lao Cham are full of marine species for tourists to observe, thanks to the contributions of conservationists such as Thao and Thuy, both preservation engineers under the payroll of the Management Board of Cu Lao Cham Marine Protected Area (MPA).

Thao, 30, works at the research center and Thuy, 25, belongs to the patrol unit. Their work stretches across 15 areas surrounding the main island of Cu Lao Cham and its seven sub-islands.

Thao’s primary job is to record, observe, and digitalize data of everything happening under the sea. These tasks might sound simple, but in reality they involve scuba diving missions that can last several hours.

Though most scuba divers can barely manage 15 minutes under the water or dive deeper than five, Thao and Thuy spend roughly 12 hours a day under the water.

Difficulty breathing and fears of unknown risks often keep divers from functioning normally, but the scene of two young girls rising to the surface surrounded by an aura of calm and optimism is a perfect illustration of why passion is the key to overcome obstacles.

“The colorful world underwater is beautiful, but diving into it is a different story,” Thao said.

“If you don’t have the courage and specific skills, you can run into problems.”

Phuong Thao (right) is seen at work under the sea. Photo: Le Xuan Ai
Phuong Thao (right) is seen at work under the sea. Photo: Le Xuan Ai

Keep the sea clean

Thao has been dedicated to marine preservation since she was a student at the Da Nang University of Technology where she earned her master’s degree in ecology.

When asked about her relationships, she giggled and confirmed that her busy work schedule hasn’t left much time for relationships.

She also shared that she has always enjoyed her life by the sea. 

She’s been offshore fishing since she was a kid and always knew she wanted a life involving the water. 

After graduation it was an easy choice for her to apply for a job at the Management Board of Cham Island MPA. Now, she’s been there five years.

Thuy has a similar story and confessed she shares the same passion for the ocean and its preservation.

Ocean conservation requires direct interaction with the environment, so diving is obligatory.

Besides observation, they also transplant coral and work to restore the ecosystem and the local marine flora. They also take coral samples to grow elsewhere.

“Each scuba-diving trip last about one hour. The world beneath is completely silent,” said Thao.

A female engineer is seen at work under the sea. Photo: Le Xuan Ai
A female engineer is seen at work under the sea. Photo: Le Xuan Ai

Clean the garbage undersea

Cu Lao Cham island is concentrating on developing tourism. Each day, this island welcomes about 3,000 – 4,000 tourists, which leads to negative environmental consequences for the island.

Despite a ban issued by the management board, tourist boats anchor on prohibited beaches which belong to conservation projects, according to Engineer Nguyen Van Vu - deputy director of Cu Lao Cham MPA.

Tourists eat on the boat and throw the garbage into the sea, flooding the area with plastic bags, beer cans, and plastic bottles.

To keep the coral safe from garbage, officers, divers in Cu Lao Cham, including two female engineers Thao and Thuy, dive into the water to clean up.

From 2015-18, were over 500 square meters of artificial coral were successfully implanted and transferred by engineers and conservation officers in Cu Lao Cham. Hard coral restoration has also reached 2,000 square meters and two nurseries were built boasting a total of 2,403 coral groups and a survival rate of over 75 percent in rehabilitated areas and over 95 percent of nursery areas.

A soft nursery with 1,200 species of coral and a 96 percent survival rate was also built by marine engineers.

Thao and Thuy have made a significant contribution to these numbers with their hundreds of hours of scuba-diving under the sea.

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