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How One Social Enterprise is Strengthening Tra Vinh’s Mangroves

What do you picture when you think of a tree? Perhaps a robust redwood, a whimsical willow, or a perfect pine? How long would it take your mind to reach the muddy mangrove?

While mangroves may not hold a prominent place in our collective imagination, they are absolutely vital when it comes to maintaining healthy ecosystems and protecting areas from the expected ravages of climate change.

Their dense, multi-tentacled roots trap sediment flowing through rivers, slowly creating new land where crustaceans, otters, birds, and other wildlife can thrive. This mangrove-anchored land also acts as a buffer for coastal communities by bearing the brunt of storm surges, strong waves, and other threats associated with typhoons. Finally, dense mangrove forests also act as carbon sinks, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and helping to slow the impact of carbon emissions on global weather patterns.

In Vietnam, these unheralded trees can be found in numerous coastal provinces, from Ca Mau at the country’s southern tip up through Can Gio in Saigon and all the way north on the biodiversity hotspot of Cat Ba Island.

Tra Vinh Province, in the Mekong Delta, is also protected by mangroves at the mouth of the Co Chien River, which separates the province from Ben Tre. Here, a social enterprise called MangLub is planting new mangrove trees to aid the expansion of forests.

It is the first social enterprise to do this work in the province, in partnership with SK Innovation, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Korea, Dreamsharing and Afoco, bringing overseas funding to Tra Vinh. SK Innovation, the South Korean corporation with a major focus on environmental, social and corporate governance standards, is the main sponsor of MangLub.

MangLub's young planted mangroves on the left, with older natural trees on the right.

“In Vietnam, especially in Tra Vinh, few organizations and individuals care about mangroves,” said Thy Pham of MangLub. “Even the local people living in the province do not know the mangrove’s importance, although they have tasted food cooked from mangrove fruits or exploited them for their precious timber.”

Starting in 2019, MangLub began planting mangrove seedlings at the tip of Con Ban, a small islet near the Co Chien’s confluence with the East Sea where a few families live off of shrimp farming. That year, they planted 1,500 mangroves over almost 1 hectare, and in 2020 they added 180,000 seedlings across 30 hectares, both on Con Ban and along the nearby coast.

Saigoneer recently had the opportunity to visit Tra Vinh and see MangLub’s plantings in person.

The Con Ban trees are still young and only visible at low tide, but it is immediately apparent that they will add substantially to the islet’s mangrove forest cover, providing enhanced protection for the people living in what would otherwise be a very exposed location.

Year-old trees visible at low tide.

On the Tra Vinh mainland, meanwhile, mangroves stretch nearly as far as the eye can see, a combination of both MangLub’s work and afforestation efforts by the provincial government over the last two decades.

Our boat - a wooden commuter ferry repurposed as a mangrove tour vessel - puttered past verdant, untouched forests, with the occasional person spotted gathering shellfish from the mudflats to sell.

We were also taken to MangLub’s mangrove nursery, where young mangroves are grown behind the protective shield of more mature trees. This was more than the usual day at the office, as we had to navigate our way through thick waist-deep mud that was just begging to ruin a camera.

Once trees in the nursery are deemed large enough, they are moved to Con Ban or another planting area so that they can take root and grow into protective adults.  

 

MangLub's mangrove nursery.

Though MangLub’s trees are young, they are already having an impact.“The planting sites have created a favorable habitat for aquatic animals,” Thy said. “These organisms are a food source for algae and snails that attach to the trunk and roots of mangroves”

The organization also works with the Tra Vinh Forestry Sub-department to hold workshops for local residents regarding the importance of maintaining the mangroves instead of clearing them for cooking material or to sell timber. Additionally, the organization is piloting an initiative of partnering with Vietnamese enterprises in mangrove reforestation, meaning businesses can take part in tailored reforestation activities as part of their CSR missions.

Moving forward, MangLub aims to plant on at least 30 hectares annually over the next five years across coastal Tra Vinh, and potentially neighboring delta provinces as well.

They are also calling for international funding to begin planting Intsia bijuga, a tree species listed as vulnerable that can grow up to 160 feet tall and lives inside mangrove forests. According to Thy, fewer than 100 of these trees remain in Tra Vinh, as its timber is highly sought-after. MangLub is currently incubating Intsia bijuga seedlings in its nursery, and hopes to begin planting them along the coast next year.

These sturdy trees would provide further coastal protection, while also bringing an important tree species back from the brink of local extinction.

A bird flies past a growing mangrove forest.

“Our long-term goal, meanwhile, is to achieve 10 million mangroves in the next 10 years,” Thy shared. “We know it’s ambitious, but nothing is impossible. We also want to raise the awareness of local people about the mangroves, and to turn our nursery into an experimental site for teachers, students and freelancers who are interested in researching mangrove species.”

As countries around the world grapple with climate change and its attendant disasters, a wide range of potential adaptations and solutions are being implemented and proposed. Some cost billions of dollars and involve cutting-edge technology.

Others, such as mangrove afforestation, use nature as a solution and require far less capital. Looking out over MangLub’s year-old mangroves, it’s hard not to imagine a greener, safer future for the residents of Tra Vinh that they will protect.

The MangLub team hard at work.

 

MangLub's website

MangLub's Facebook

Phone Number: 0294 654 2888