Tra Su wetlands in the Mekong delta losing its biodiversity due to drought

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Three large rivers flow through the Mekong delta province of An Giang in Vietnam: the Hau, Tien and Vam Co Rivers. The entire province is dotted by a number of seasonally flooded small islands. The delta province’s rivers, canals, and rich wetlands forests have proved attractive for tourism with about 6.2 million people visiting An Giang every year.

The province mainly promotes “agro-tourism” that is based on the province’s wetlands and its fishing and farming culture and practices including weaving and the fruit and vegetable gardens. But the most well-known tourist attraction is the province’s Tra Su wetland forests.

The Tra Su wetland forests cover more than 850 hectares. The wetlands holds an extraordinary range of biodiversity of plants, fish, and wetland birds and animals such as storks, herons, egrets, snakes, turtles and many kinds of bats.

There are at least two bird species in the Tra Su wetlands that feature in the Red Book of Vietnam as endangered or conservation species: The painted stork (Giang Sen; Mycteria leucocephala) and the oriental darter (Dieng Dieng; Anhinga melanogaster).

More importantly, the Tra Su wetlands are crucial for the livelihoods of the local communities in the area. Local people depend on the wetlands for fisheries and income from tourism. There are a number of home-made products made mainly by the women such as woven baskets and cakes that are sold to the tourists.

However, in recent years, the Tra Su wetlands are being damaged by water shortages. Even during the main flooding season of the Mekong River, the water level in the wetlands have been very low. From the middle of August, the Mekong River begins to flood due to the annual rains, and the wetlands fill with water, alluvial silt and migrating fish species.

But in 2015, this seasonal flooding season did not occur. With low water levels, many parts of the wetlands are drying out exposing the roots of the vegetation. The ongoing, extended drought in the Mekong region is having serious impacts on the wetlands and subsequently, on the local livelihoods of more than 10,000 people in An Giang province.

Photo 1

The Tra Su wetlands cover more than 850 hectares. The wetlands hold an extraordinary range of biodiversity of plants, fish, and wetland birds and animals. (Photo by Truong Hong Suong.)

Photo 2

The trees in the Tra Su forest belong to the genus melaleuca (a genus of nearly 300 species of plants in the myrtle family, Myrtaceae) that range in size from small shrubs that rarely grow to more than 1 m (3 ft) high, to trees up to 35 m (100 ft). (Photo by Truong Hong Suong.)

Photo 3

Tourism is a main source of income for the local communities in the Tra Su forest. Tourists can take small boats to travel around the small canals and streams with the local guides. (Photo by Truong Hong Suong.)

Photo 4

This is a kind of wetland vegetation (called Beo in Vietnamese) that covers the surface of the Tra Su forest. (Photo by Truong Hong Suong.)

Photo 5

The wetlands are full of birds. At least two bird species in the Tra Su wetlands that feature in the Red Book of Vietnam as endangered or conservation species: The painted stork (Giang Sen; Mycteria leucocephala) and the oriental darter (Dieng Dieng; Anhinga melanogaster). (Photo by Truong Hong Suong.)

Photo 6

These houses on stilts are for the “homestay”of the tourists around the Tra Su forest. The houses are raised to avoid the seasonal flooding when the wetlands fill with the floods from the Mekong River. (Photo by Truong Hong Suong.)

Photo 7

The snake fish is considered a local delicacy eaten along with wild vegetables picked from the wetlands. (Photo by Truong Hong Suong.)

Photo 8

An Giang province is well-known for its palm tree fruit. The local people say that drinking the water from the palm fruit in the early mornings is very good for health. (Photo by Truong Hong Suong.)

Photo 9

The wetlands hold many kinds of herbs and vegetables (this picture and next) that are used by the local people for their meals. (Photo by Truong Hong Suong.)

Photo 10

(Photo by Truong Hong Suong.)

Photo 11

The signboard warns about forest fires in the Tra Su forest. Due to the extended drought, the Tra Su forest is at increased risk of wildfires. (Photo by Truong Hong Suong.)

Photo 12

The ongoing drought in the Mekong region has dried out many areas of the wetlands. As the ground becomes parched from lack of water, the tree roots start sticking out of the ground leading to the death of the trees. (Photo by Truong Hong Suong.)

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