Shield from harm

Development abounds on Phu Quoc island but more care is need to ensure the environment does not suffer as a result.

By Le Diem on October 11,2017 02:38 PM

Shield from harm

photos: Viet Tuan

ust a decade ago, Phu Quoc Island, off the coast of the Mekong Delta’s Kien Giang province, was like an uncut gem. Not many people knew of its charming sandy beaches, turquoise waters, magnificent natural surroundings, and fantastic scuba diving and snorkelling. Recently, though, it has gained a certain sparkle after being ‘polished’ by a new international airport, road network, and a number of construction projects.

SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE AND TOURISM CENTRE

Situated in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc Island is convenient for trade and tourism among neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Cambodia. The island is endowed with sunny temperate weather all-year-round and beautiful nature for tourism development. Along with a 150-km long beach and white sands, Phu Quoc also features some 36,000 ha of primary forest and a rich marine ecosystem.

Based on its special location and potential, under a government project prepared in 2010 on the island’s sustainable development, Phu Quoc is targeted to develop as a special economic zone and a national and international centre for ecotourism, holidays and entertainment by 2020 with a vision to 2030, a centre of regional finance, regional and international air transport, and scientific and technological research, and a national and regional forest and marine biodiversity reserve.

Phu Quoc International Airport was built with investment of $810 million, featuring a larger capacity and more advanced facilities than the old, smaller domestic airport of Duong Dong, and was completed and put into operation in December 2012. Other infrastructure has also been upgraded or newly-built, such as the An Thoi International Seaport, the main North-South road bisecting the island, other major roads, and an undersea electricity cable from the mainland measuring 57.33 km in length.

The number of visitors to Phu Quoc has skyrocketed in recent years as a result. There were more than 200,000 arrivals in 2010, which increased 700% to 1.45 million in 2016, which was up 63% over 2015 and 132% against 2013. The growth in tourism over recent years has always exceeded 30%, while annual economic growth has been about 25%, according to the Kien Giang Provincial People’s Committee.

In 2014, the number of hotel rooms fell far short of demand, with just 2,900, none of which were five-star standard, and nor were there any major venues for meetings and conferences. Since 2015, a number of big brands have invested on the island, such as the CEO Group, Accor, Vingroup, the BIM Group, and the Sun Group. By April this year, Phu Quoc had more than 10,000 hotel rooms, including nearly 4,000 of three to five stars. It is predicted that, by 2020, it will have 12,000 rooms, along with a range of entertainment areas, such as casinos, golf courses, safari parks, cable cars, and water sports.

Phu Quoc is transforming itself at a robust pace. It has attracted 265 projects, including 197 licensed with investment approaching VND218 trillion ($9.5 billion), according to the People’s Committee. Of these, 31 are in operation and 24 are already under construction.

Photo: Viet Tuan

Photo: Viet Tuan

ADDRESSING POLLUTION

As a bright future comes into view on Phu Quoc, it continues to grapple with issues relating to garbage and pollution.

Amid beautiful resorts and stunning scenery and at some tourist site are piles of rubbish overflowing from garbage bins. Litter also blights many beaches and stretches of ocean, dumped by both local people and tourists. ‘Imported’ garbage also washes ashore from Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia, damaging local coral reefs, according to divers.

Mr Vo Ta Ngoc, General Manager of Green Bay Phu Quoc Resort & Spa, said that many international guests at the resort ask why such a pretty island has so much rubbish, adding that it’s the only fault they can find with the island. He believes that a remarkable increase in immigrants from elsewhere in Vietnam coupled with rapid development but an absence of a waste treatment system is behind the levels of rubbish and environmental pollution.

According to the Phu Quoc Island People’s Committee, there are about 100,000 residents and 1,600 businesses on the island, including more than 60 fish sauce producers and many food and beverage providers, which generate 180 tonnes of rubbish each day, of which only 50% is processed, mostly by burning, dissolving by chemical substances, or burying. There are two garbage dumps, in An Thoi town and Cua Duong commune. The one in Cua Duong, however, was closed recently after becoming full and polluting the surrounding area. The one in An Thoi, meanwhile, has also become full.

A waste treatment system has been planned by Phu Quoc authorities since 2005 and was approved by the government in 2010. In 2016, a project building a waste treatment centre on 10.5 ha with a capacity of 200 tonnes a day got underway. It was expected to be put into operation in June this year and would treat all waste on the island. Related infrastructure was expected to be ready in August. To date, however, completion remains elusive though is expected shortly.

Everyone on the island is looking forward to celebrating the opening of the centre, especially hoteliers and businesses. In the meantime, they have joined hands to try to find solutions to protect the island’s spectacular scenery.

Building nature-friendly accommodation could be considered by new investors for a green Phu Quoc. The Nam Nghi Phu Quoc Island resort was built from natural materials such as bamboo, wood, stone, and marble, while Green Bay Phu Quoc Resort & Spa offers nature-oriented products and services to target eco-tourists and La Veranda Phu Quoc uses water saved and processed from its laundry to water trees planted along its roads. Ms Annia Rodriguez, Guest Relations Manager at La Veranda Resort, said they will use produce from their organic farm in their restaurants and also plan to invest in growing fruit and other herbs for use in their spa.

A group called Keep Phu Quoc Clean & Green has been founded by hotels on the island. Once a month they head to different locations and pick up rubbish and raise awareness among the local community. ‘A lot more local people and tourists come to help us,’ Mr Ian O Broin, Director of Operations at Nam Nghi Phu Quoc Island, told The Guide.

Another solution is to use environmentally-friendly and recycled products. Saying ‘No’ to plastic bags is considered an effective solution. ‘If you came to Phu Quoc ten years ago, people were using banana leaves to wrap things instead of plastic bags and containers, like they do today,’ said Mr O Broin. ‘So, if we can manage to make Phu Quoc plastic-free, like in the Maldives, and check on tourists bringing plastic bags to the island, I believe it will be a milestone in resolving environment issues.’

Nam Nghi Phu Quoc Island also has community projects talking with kids in local schools and raised VND200 million ($8,800) for a range of projects, including buying reusable bags to give to high school kids to take home and tell their parents to use them instead of plastic bags. ‘The more the kids understand the importance of the environment, the more they teach their parents and it will spread into the community,’ Mr O Broin said.

As soon as the sewage system is completed, the ‘gem’ of Phu Quoc is expected to shine like a diamond and attract more and more nature lovers.

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