Rapid economic development often results in serious impacts on forests, evidenced by the alarming deforestation in Phu Quoc City in the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang having plunged the city’s forests into a state of emergency.
Forests are regarded as the living soul of residents on the 'pearl island.'
However, the woods full of stone stakes and steel wires are disappointing tourists.
The situation is becoming truly alarming.
Forests seem empty after one unguarded night
Deforestation and land encroachment in Phu Quoc City in mid-June 2022 were no longer overt and rampant, but it did not mean that forests stopped 'bleeding.'
On the main path from Ham Ninh Commune to Thom Beach, people could easily see excavated mountainsides and forest land areas occupied with concrete stakes, zinc-coated barbed wire fences, and even well-built constructions.
“Some gangs secretly encroached and built fences," complained N.X.T., a forest ranger.
“During the forest land invasion process, vicious fights took place between those groups.
"After just one unguarded night, the primeval forests got emptied.”
Mixed forest patches hidden on the small trails leading to the flooded forests in Cua Can and Duong To Communes were also destroyed.
Staking and land lot dividing are seen everywhere.
Some immigrants took their time to build their makeshift houses despite being coerced to move many times by local authorities.
Apart from deforestation, encroachment by the 'unspoken influencers' on the island has greatly concerned corporate investors.
Tourists in Phu Quoc are fed up with zinc-coated barbed wire and toll fences surrounding forest patches, conspicuous warning signs of criminal prosecution, and hundreds of cameras to monitor and protect day and night.
G.T.L.P., director of a company in the city, stated that illegal loggers have not only destroyed the natural forests but also blatantly invaded the land owned by the firm.
“The woodland of the firm was marked and handed over to develop projects, but multiple gangs falsified the documents for trading and transferring," P. said.
“Once we discover this, they will threaten us.”
According to the Phu Quoc forest protection unit, numerous groups of illegal loggers are taking over the forests with various underhanded tricks.
Many surveys and reports by local authorities show that forests and woodland on Phu Quoc Island are still 'tasty meals' to illegal loggers.
Statistics indicate that as many as 22 groups are logging, encroaching on woodland, and causing land and woodland disputes.
Logging is conducted from midnight to 3:00 am.
Illegal loggers have detailed trading contracts with the origin certified by the head of hamlets and communes over the periods.
Forest loss dismays tourists
Tran Hoai Vu, a visitor back to Phu Quoc after ten years, expressed his disappointment about the forests and the pristine beauty disappearing.
The most impressive thing about the 'pearl island' is the close-to-nature beauty.
Vu was charmed with the blue beach, white sand, and primeval forests, but now it is over.
This comeback is different. Phu Quoc is more splendid and flashy, yet the area of nature is narrowed down, coastlines being split, while many beaches seem to be owned by someone.
According to a representative from the Phu Quoc National Park, the area of protection forests on the island, mainly in its south, has reduced to 6,600 hectares from over 11,900 hectares.
Since 2009, the People’s Committee of Kien Giang Province has made many decisions to recall over 959 hectares to hand it over to 17 investors to develop projects.
|Tourists in Phu Quoc these days can easily see blockhouses, warning signs, and cameras monitoring logging and land invasion. Photo: Chi Hanh / Tuoi Tre|
Of the total, 27 projects were licensed by the provincial government but the developers were yet to receive the land of 485 hectares from the national park.
Four other projects have got the approval for surveys but have yet to be licensed for investment by relevant agencies.
As for the protection forest area, the Kien Giang government has promulgated 21 decisions to recall nearly 7,000 hectares of land to hand over to companies and organizations as planned.
The Phu Quoc National Park is finding it challenging to protect forests because the current laws, mechanisms, and policies are overlapping and confusing, allowing wrongdoers to easily take advantage of the loopholes.
Besides, sanctions imposed on forest protection and management violators are not harsh enough, whereas some delayed violations have put law enforcement in difficult circumstances.
Authorities speak out
Le Quoc Anh, vice-chairman of the Kien Giang government, said that forest-related violations in Phu Quoc City have become more complicated, provoking an uproar and suspicion over the city’s security and forest protection.
This can pose a risk of turning the city into a hotspot of land invasion, forest encroachment, and deforestation.
To strengthen social order and put residents’ minds at ease, the city set up a special working team in charge of launching inspections in invaded and destroyed areas to investigate and handle violators.
As stated by Anh, during the peak of such inspections, local authorities will focus on the special-use forests, protection forests, land planned for forestry purposes, woodland that is managed by the Phu Quoc National Park and is not planned for forestry purposes, and land for licensed projects.
“We will stamp out all kinds of unlawful plants, architecture, and constructions; reclaim the land in illegal use, force wrongdoers to rectify consequences, and regrow forests,” said Anh.
Huynh Quang Hung, chairman of the Phu Quoc City government, said that on the first day of launching the inspections, officials handled a massive deforestation case in Cua Duong Commune, cut down all the plants that lawbreakers intentionally grew in the forest, and quickly rebuilt the forest environment toward the sustainable growth of Phu Quoc.
Hung affirmed that forest destroyers and invaders of public land in Phu Quoc started their jobs craftily by taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic, days off, holidays, and nighttime, making life tough for competent agencies.
“From now to the end of the year, the city will focus on tackling the cases of illegally constructing buildings and invading woodland, state-owned land, and land for investment projects," Hung stated
“When evidence is found, the investigative police agency will launch criminal proceedings against violators."
Over the past few years, many tourism projects have been developed in Phu Quoc, according to the Vietnam Institute for Urban and Rural Planning under the Ministry of Construction.
Hence, the conservation of forests and the national park is a big concern in the economic development of Phu Quoc.
Numerous tourism projects that are underway or have been put into operation are erasing the landscape value of the city due to incompatible architecture.
The protection forest is showing signs of shrinking owing to illegal projects.
It is necessary to adopt appropriate measures to preserve and enhance the value of the ecosystem.