Biologists, residents warn on building paper mill in Quang Ngai hinh anh 1Nipa palm forest in Binh Son district plays an important role in protecting local farming area from erosion and salinity (Source: VNA)

Quang Ngai (VNA)
- A planned wood-pulp plant in Binh Son district of central Quang Ngai province would destroy 50ha of nipa palm forest, causing pollution, loss of biodiversity, and irrevocable damage to local lifestyles, biologists and residents warn.

Biologist and vice rector of the Da Nang Teachers’ Training College Vo Van Minh made the case against the plant in a petition to the provincial People’s Committee last week.

As planned, the province will allow the agricultural irrigation development company VNT 19 to build a paper mill in Long Phu village in the district’s Binh Phuoc commune. The mill would require the construction of an 85ha lake in the commune, of which 50ha are to be built where a century-old nipa palm forest now stands. Construction on the plant will likely not begin for two to three years, as ministries and departments conduct assessments on the planned facility. 

Local residents said they rely on the forest for survival. Nguyen Ngoc Minh, 70, said he grew up with the nipa palm forest, and it creates a major income for some households living around the forest.

“Local residents still fish in the forest and collect leaves of nipa palm for house building. We could earn 300,000 VND (13.3 USD) each day from fishing in the area,” Minh said.

“The forest creates a ‘green’ landscape and shelter for aquatic fish, shrimp and oyster. It also protects our farming land from erosion and salinity,” he said, adding that the forest had sheltered the army’s soldiers and guerillas during wars in the 20th century.   
Vo Van Minh said that 400 households in the area rely on the forest for income from fishing and leaf collecting.

Nguyen The Nhan, chairman of the Binh Phuoc commune People’s Committee, said the province had asked the company to replant an area of forest equivalent to which would be cleared to build the lake. The province proposed a 25 billion VND (1.1 million USD) payment from the company for the replanting.

Minh said the province should conduct an assessment of the environmental impact on nipa palm forest and coastal mangrove swamps in Binh Son district before approving an industrial project.

Minh, who is head of Environment Biological Resource Teach Research Team (DN-EBR), said the team, in co-operation with the Centre of Biodiversity Conservation, GreenViet, a NGO, had surveyed the biodiversity in the nipa palm forests and mangrove swamps in the district and found them extremely rich.

“Seventy five species of flora and fauna were found on total 120ha of nipa palm forest. The 100-year-old forest area is also a safe shelter for 26 migrant bird and waterfowl species. Almost 90 per cent of aquatic animals and fishes in the coastal area are grown in the ecological system of nipa palm forest before moving to the sea,” Minh said.

The controversy over the wood-pulp plant comes as the region struggles to balance conservation with economic development. According to latest report from the provincial agriculture and rural development, the province has 197ha of coastal mangrove forest, nearly 60 per cent decrease from 2002.

In 2015, the province grew 45.7ha coastal mangrove forest in three communes of Binh Phuoc, Binh Dong and Binh Duong in the district under the Climate Change Resilience and coastal mangrove swamp project.  

But re-growth projects can’t keep pace with the destruction of forests. Last month in Binh Son district, a microorganism, Sphaeroma terebrans Bate (a mangrove-boring isopod) killed 32.4ha of mangrove.-VNA