Studying Climate Change in Vietnam

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới! Happy New Year from Vietnam! Fifteen UM students recently joined me for four weeks in Vietnam to examine current and anticipated effects of climate change on the people, lands and waterways of the Mekong Delta. The travel seminar is set up to explore both the socio-cultural and economic dimensions of climate change – particularly its impact on socially vulnerable communities – and on efforts to adapt to the effects of climate change. Each of the students explored one topic on the course blog site,“Deep in the Delta: Stories from Vietnam”

While we covered a lot of territory in our time there, three sets of experiences stand out. First, we focused a good deal on coastal areas affected by sea level rise and the loss of mangrove forests to both the effects of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and intensive shrimp aquaculture in recent years. At Can Gio Mangrove Biosphere Reserve near Ho Chi Minh City we met with shrimp farmers involved in conserving the restored mangroves, and donned rubber boots to wade through tidal mud flats to participate in a mangrove restoration project. Due to widespread restoration efforts, for the first time in at least 75 years, Vietnam is showing an increase – very modest – in its mangrove forests. Mangroves are the nurseries to much of the aquatic life that both feeds the delta population and supports marine biodiversity in the waters surrounding Vietnam. They also shelter the coastlines from coastal erosion due to rising sea levels and increased intensity of tropical storms due to climate change.

Second, we interacted frequently with students from Can Tho University who do environmental projects and activities through the Delta Youth Alliance. Directed by Mr. Ly Quoc Dang – a Mansfield Center fellow here at UM in Fall 2015 – for five years now UM students have worked with DYA students on joint field trips and projects in the Mekong Delta. This year we spent a day examining a developing ecotourism development project on Son Island west of Can Tho City, and traveled together to look at bat conservation efforts involving the local Buddhist pagoda in Soc Trang province. Due to the wonders of Facebook, the friendships we established with the DYA students continue beyond the confines of the trip.

UM students having lunch in Vietnam

Finally, we were very fortunate to be able to examine first hand conservation and climate change adaptation efforts in the rice paddies and small, but vital National Parks that are sprinkled around the Mekong Delta. Examining integrated shrimp aquaculture and mangrove preservation projects in Ca Mau National Park, peat-melaleuca forest conservation and adaptation to increased fire regimes in U Minh Thong National Park, wind turbine projects in Bac Lieu Province, and developing an ecotourism infrastructure to further facilitate conservation efforts in Cat Tien National Park gave us good exposure to current governmental efforts to integrate biodiversity conservation with climate change adaptation.

Vietnam Students UM Group Photo

As always our experience was enriched by our local teachers and guides, the skilled researchers and professors at Can Tho University who generously shared their time and insights with us. Inspired by the many constructive efforts we experienced first hand to both mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, we returned to Montana determined to do our part to address climate chance and other social-environmental issues in Montana and throughout the Rocky Mountain West.