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

(Ecosystem) Services for Your Dong

Image“(Ecosystem) Services for Your Dong”

By Will Findell

 ImageThe Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam is the agricultural center of Vietnam and all of Southeast Asia. ImageIt provides over fifty percent of all of Vietnam’s food supply and makes Vietnam the second largest exporter of rice in the world. The agricultural industry in the Delta outpaces the rest of the nation’s economy, with eleven percent annual growth. This high agricultural production is the result of its fertile alluvial soils and plentiful fresh water. The soil is so fertile because the Delta was created by nutrient heavy silts and sediments carried from upstream and deposited by the Mekong River. When combined with predictable wet and dry seasons, the Delta is a perfect place to feed a nation. These characteristics are all the result of healthy coastal and riparian ecosystems around the Delta and the services they provide.

ImageEcosystem services are a way to differentiate and describe all the ways functioning ecosystems benefit people and other species so that they can be valued. They encompass everything from carbon sequestration to natural beauty. If that sounds broad, it is. It needs to be broad to show the degree to which humans are reliant on the health of the natural world.Image There are four types of ecosystem services: provisioning services, regulating services, supporting services, and cultural services. Provisioning services are extractive resource uses such as timber. Regulating services are common resources that ecosystems provide such as carbon storage or flood protection by coastal wetlands. Supporting services are the basic parts of all ecosystems, such as nutrient cycling, which enable the health of the ecosystem as a whole.

ImageCultural services are things that people gain personal value from, such as recreation and natural beauty. This differentiation makes it easier to understand how much economic value is derived from the different services. For some things, such as timber harvest, carbon storage, or even flood protection, services can be given a dollar value for what they provide through the continued functioning of ecosystems. For others, such as wildlife protection or aesthetics of nature, a concrete dollar value can be impossible to determine. Giving an economic value to ecosystem services more easily shows the importance of those services, and promotes the protection of healthy ecosystems.

ImageThis valuation is especially important in the Mekong Delta, where many ecosystem services are threatened by the effects of climate change in the region. Current trends in sea level rise, increased saltwater intrusion, and more frequent extreme weather events will impact many of the services that allow the Delta to be such a fertile area. ImageSalt water intrusion will harm soil quality and the availability of fresh water during the dry season. The Delta already sees salt water intrusion averaging ten kilometers inland each year. This also impacts wetlands and other ecosystems that provide many of the other services and resources the people of the Delta rely on. However, understanding the value of these ecosystems and protecting them offers the best defense against losing their services.

ImageCertain ecosystem services protect against the negative impacts of climate change on the other important services. ImageHealthy coastal mangrove forests offer the best protection against flooding from typhoons and sea level rise in the Delta. Unfortunately, eighty percent of the coastal mangrove forest buffer has been cut down to increase shrimp farming and other aquaculture industry. This risks the security of the Delta in the future for short term growth right now, highlighting the importance of economically evaluating ecosystem services. If Vietnam would consider the economics of healthy ecosystems, they could pursue more responsible development of the Delta that would not be as vulnerable to climate change.Image

One response

  1. Large part of current agricultural riches of Mekong delta could be attributed to the creative intelligence, hard physical work, great engineering skill, people-oriented governance and for-next-generation personal sacrifices of early Vietnamese settlers in the late 1,600’s.
    Before the Vietnamese pioneers arrived, the vast delta was sparsely populated by the Khmer people due to untamed natural conditions and threats of unfriendly animals ( tigers, gators, wild pigs…) and insects. Population estimates ranged anywhere between 100,000 to 500,000 natives for area of 2 millions+ acres of wetland.
    The politics of the time allowed some massive but orderly migrations of Vietnamese from the north and central of Vietnam (estimated over million by 1,700’s) by ways of periodic lands transfer as (bridal dowry of cross-royal marriages and payments for war assistance). To attract voluntary southward movement of citizens, the Nguyen dynasty assigned specific security stabilization and soils taming tasks to successive southern governors: thousands of kilometers of sophisticated dykes system flushing standing and salty waters into the ocean, systematic drying of elevated soils for vegetation plantings and bamboos surrounded villages establishment for keeping out animals… It appears that centuries of non-stop miracles effort will now be challenged by global warming. Given what were accomplished during recent past and with global technical assistance, the Vietnamese once again should be ready to take on the challenge of nature.

    January 13, 2014 at 6:17 pm

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