Students and professors from the University of Montana learn about how people are dealing with life and livelihoods under dynamic conditions

Orange you glad for Comprehensive Restoration Projects?

Orange you glad for Comprehensive Restoration Projects?” by Zach Bauerle


It is difficult to comprehend the immense social and environmental implications caused to Vietnam as a result of the Vietnam American War.  With domestic casualties reaching the hundreds of thousands, the environmental damage caused to the mangrove forests in Vietnam is easily overlooked. However, there have not been many actions in human conflict history that have caused such a direct and devastating impact to such a vital ecosystem that can compare to the United States use of the chemical known as Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. During my short time in this beautiful country I have not been able to comprehend such widespread destruction of the mangrove forests, because of their almost miraculous recovery as a result of nation and local restoration efforts.

Mangrove forests are common coastal regions found along the west coast of Vietnam that provide a variety of ecosystem functions such as providing an important habitat for a variety of both aquatic and terrestrial creatures, filtration services, and erosion reduction. PlaneAgentOrange_831However, these dense forests were seen as an enemy to the American forces during the Vietnam War. In order to dissipate enemy cover and expose trade routes, the defoliant Agent Orange was manufactured by Monsanto Cooperation and Dow Chemical, in cooperation with the U.S. department of defense, to be used on the mangrove forests in Vietnam.

CanGioAfterAgentOrange_833In total nearly five million acres of mangrove forests were denuded or heavily defoliated in Southern Vietnam. Our visit to the War Remnants Museum displayed images of the immense destruction of the once flourishing ecosystem. This destruction not only represented a terrible environmental loss, but also social and cultural devastation to surrounding communities who relied on mangrove ecosystems for economic means.

Although images of such destruction are depressing to your common environmental advocate, my experience at the Can Gio Mangrove Biosphere Reserve shed light on a glimpse of hope. Dr. Nguyen Van Be, a professor at Can Tho University and our guide for the day, discussed some of the variety of techniques that have been implemented in order to fully restore the mangrove ecosystem in Southern Vietnam.

NurseryCanGio_955Through collaboration between the government and roughly 140 families who were paid to restore and maintain the forests, a substantial proportion of the mangrove forests in the region have made an incredible recovery.

After climbing a structurally questionable observation tower that provided a beautiful 360-degree view of the Mekong River and the surrounding mangrove forests, I was almost at a loss for words. ButterflyCanGio_974Comparing the images from the War Remnants Museum of a complete ecosystem wipeout to my experience viewing the mangrove forests firsthand today represents a monumental accomplishment by the people of Vietnam to engage in a comprehensive restoration project in a scale unlike anything I have ever seen.

 As an environmentalist who focuses mainly on ecological restoration, I could not help but to have a strong emotional reaction while viewing the mangrove forest, as well as learning about its journey to renewal. As silly as it sounds, much like a phoenix rises from its ashes, the mangrove forests in the Can Gio Reserve are experiencing a stage of renewal. Although the road to restoration is far from complete, efforts and successes thus far represent a victory for the environmental and social communities of Southern Vietnam.ZachLeydonErin_Mangroves_034




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