These threats are exacerbated by poor co-coordination between State agencies and local administrations.
This critical situation was highlighted at the National Seminar on Management Effectiveness Evaluation held in the central city of Da Nang on July 14.
Representatives from 16 MPAs and several NGOs attended the seminar.
“Only 0.17% of total sea area (1 million square kilometres) has been targeted for strict conservation, and we target increasing this to 0.24% in the coming years,” said Nguyen Thanh Binh, deputy head of Department of Conservation and Aquatic Resources Development.
There is almost no area in MPAs that have been declared off limits to fishing, he said.
Binh said slow planning and a weak legal framework have been identified as hurdles to strengthening enforcement at MPAs.
He said more effective measures have been planned for the 2016-2020 period, including expanding the MPAs, biodiversity supervision and community management.
Deputy head of the Directorate of Fisheries Le Tran Nguyen Hung, said a policy was needed for communities to shift to other vocations to ease pressure on MPAs, given that most people living in their vicinity were poor.
“Many local administrations have focused exclusively on tourism development in the MPAs, and some of them have even reserved core zones for this purpose,” Hung said.
He said inadequate funding, redundant legal documents as well as poor cooperation between central agencies and local administrations have to be dealt with in a clear and transparent manner.
According to the Directorate of Fisheries under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural development, Hon Me Island, Nam Yet, Phu Quy and Hai Van-Son Tra are set to become MPAs in the future.
Bui Thi Thu Hien, Marine & Coastal Programme Coordinator for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), said MPAs in Vietnam should strongly punish violations of the environment.
“Fishing with electric shock and over-fishing are still happening in MPAs nationwide, while construction of infrastructure for tourism services have been stepped up by local administrations,” Hien said, adding that there was still a misunderstanding that MPAs have only been established for the purpose of serving tourism.
“Coral reefs and seaweed beds have been degraded, thus fish and marine species living in coral reefs have reduced. Meanwhile, poor sea water quality and heavy pollution from coastal lines have worsened the situation,” she said.
Hien said not much research is being done on biodiversity and coral reefs development in MPAs.
She suggested that MPAs reserve part of their tourism service proceeds to enhance management and protection of the nation’s marine environment.
According to latest reports, the Ha Long Bay Heritage Management Board earned VND783 billion (US$35 million) from tourism services last year and 18% of this revenue was returned to MPAs for conservation activities.
Cham Island in Hoi An – a world biosphere reserve recognised by UNESCO in 2009 – has been seen as good example in management and conservation.
The Cham Island MPA management board has successfully carried out ‘No Plastic Bag’ and ‘No Fishing’ campaigns.
The Cham Island has banned fishing on 0.5% of the total 6,716ha sea area, and will increase this to 10% in coming years.
It has reserved 50% of the total US$650,000 in revenues for conservation and protection of the MPA.