Apart from the picturesque landscapes, visitors to Cham Islands off Hoi An City, located in central Vietnam, are also mesmerized by its diverse range of coral species.
A short distance from the heart of Hoi An City by boat, the Cham Islands (Cu Lao Cham) comprise a group of eight islets forming a part of the Cu Lao Cham Marine Park, a World Biosphere Reserve recognized by UNESCO.
Surrounding these small islands are 300 different coral species clustered in colorful reefs observable through the clear, emerald-green water.
Dai Islet is the largest among the islands and hosts one of the most breathtaking coral reefs in the area.
Putting on a diving suit and oxygen tank provided by tour organizers, visitors can dive into the refreshing water for a closer look at the coral.
Concealed behind schools of brightly colored fish, the coral reef appeals to the eyes as though it were a lady shying away from human admiration.
Having just resurfaced from a long dive at Dai Islet, British tourist Richard Leech said he had gone coral-diving in many places around the world, but nothing until then had amazed him as much as the Cham Islands coral reefs did.
The natural coral there was “out of this world,” Leech said, with colors so varied and unique that he felt as if they had had emotions.
Ngo Thi Hoang Yen, a 28-year-old visitor from Hanoi, said the experience she had with the coral was unforgettable.
“When you touch them, the coral doesn’t feel rough at all like it appears to be,” Yen said.
Tourists go coral-diving on Cham Islands in Hoi An City, Quang Nam Province. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Conservation for tourism
According to Ngo Dinh Quy, head of the patrol and community development division at Cu Lao Cham Marine Park, there are currently 38 businesses offering boat services to tourists who want to go coral-diving.
The Cham Islands welcome around 3,000 visitors every day on average, 50-60 percent of whom opt for the unique experience.
“We have categorized the coral reefs into separate sections for snorkeling and diving, so that tourist activities can be coupled with conservation efforts,” Quy said.
Each area of the coral reefs is only opened for tourists between three and five years before being fenced off for conservation to prevent permanent damage to the coral, Quy said.
Tran Van Cu, a resident on the Cham Islands who had given up fishing to provide coral diving service with his former fishing boat, said a coral diving package for a group of 4-6 tourists costs VND600,000 (US$26), while individual tourists can take part in the activity for VND300,000 ($13) per person.
Cu’s family now enjoys a more stable income thanks to the increasing number of tourists visiting the islands.
Ngo Van Hai, an employee at Cu Lao Cham Marine Park, said local fishermen used to carry out fishing activities near the coral reefs, which risked damaging the precious natural resource.
Now that they had made the switch from fishing to offering coral diving tours, Hai said, not only are the coral reefs safe from man-made threats but locals also have a better means of living.
From Hoi An City in Quang Nam Province, tourists can sign up for day tours to visit the Cham Islands at VND150,000-400,000 ($6.61-17.62) per person, or they can hire a boat from locals at a negotiable price.