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Buddhist event sparks environmental controversy for releasing 30,000 plastic lanterns to sea

Tuesday, August 27, 2019, 15:46 GMT+7
Buddhist event sparks environmental controversy for releasing 30,000 plastic lanterns to sea
Lit-up lanterns are seen floating on Lan Ha off Hai Phong, northern Vietnam, on August 10, 2019. Photo: Thanh Trung / Tuoi Tre

An annual Buddhist festival held earlier this month in the northern Vietnamese city of Hai Phong has attracted environmental criticism as it purportedly involved people setting as many as 30,000 plastic lanterns afloat on a local bay.

On the night of August 10, hundreds of people gathered in Cat Ba Town on Cat Hai Island, a district administered by Hai Phong, to observe Vu Lan Occasion, a festival Buddhist followers hold annually to pay homage to their parents and ancestors.

As part of the celebration, participants joined a ritual to release 30,000 water lanterns to the local Lan Ha Bay.

As the activity took place at night, the lanterns, lit up with candles, made a dazzling scene as they were glowing against the dark.

However, several days after the festival, photos emerged online, purportedly showing a number of those released plastic lanterns floating on Lan Ha Bay, with many people saying they had become plastic waste and a serious environmental hazard to the sea and local marine life.

During the Vu Lan Occasion, observed on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, many Vietnamese people in general and Buddhist followers in particular often float lanterns on rivers or other water bodies.

The lanterns are usually lit with candles, as it is believed in Buddhist culture that their lights signify the transition from darkness to a brighter future.

Venerable Thich Tuc Khang lights a lantern at a Buddhist festival in Hai Phong, northern Vietnam, on August 10, 2019. Photo: Thanh Trung / Tuoi Tre

Venerable Thich Tuc Khang lights a lantern at a Buddhist festival in Hai Phong, northern Vietnam, on August 10, 2019. Photo: Thanh Trung / Tuoi Tre

Venerable Thich Tuc Khang, a member of the International Buddhist Commission of the Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha, said people in Cat Hai have held the lantern release ceremony on every Vu Lan Occasion over the last five years.

In none of those celebrations had the organizing board failed to collect the floated lanterns after the events, the monk told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Sunday.

Venerable Thich Tuc Khang underlined that the viral photos did not reflect what actually had happened after the event.

He strongly affirmed that the organizing board immediately collected all the lanterns and rejected allegations that many of the items were still floating on the sea.

Nguyen Cong Hoa, director of the management board that oversees all bays in Hai Phong’s Cat Ba archipelago, told Tuoi Tre that his department had prepared a floating buoy system offshore to prevent the lanterns from drifting too far from the Lan Ha Bay to the sea.

Meanwhile, a leader of Cat Hai District said that the photos going viral on the Internet are misleading as they are old pictures of previous Vu Lan festivals in Cat Ba Town.

As of Sunday, no plastic lanterns were found floating on the bay, according to the observation of Tuoi Tre reporters.

This photo shared on Facebook purportedly shows lanterns left floating on the sea after the festival in Cat Ba Town.

This photo shared on Facebook purportedly shows lanterns left floating on the sea after the festival in Cat Ba Town.

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