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Freediving volunteers clean up coral in central Vietnam


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Enthusiastic snorkelers and divers are working together to clean up garbage in the sea and protect coral reefs off the coast of Da Nang.

And they do it for free.

A day in mid-August, more than 40 members of the Da Nang Freediving met at a beach along the Son Tra Peninsula to pick up trash stuck on coral reefs offshore.

The youngest member, 11-year-old Tran Bang Bang, snorkeled in shallow waters while others dove to depths of 5-10m to pick up trash that had been carelessly tossed in the ocean.

Members of Da Nang Freediving group snorkel in the sea off Son Tra Peninsula, August 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

Members of Da Nang Freediving group snorkel in the sea off Son Tra Peninsula, August 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

Every time discovering a "ghost net," a term used to call a fishing net that's been lost or abandoned in the ocean, members of the group will take turns diving down and carefully use a knife to cut the net before removing it entirely so as not to affect the coral reef.

Naturally, coral grows only around one centimeter every year. Coral reefs contribute as much as half the resources necessary to maintain the environments we get our seafood from. Therefore, if coral were to die en masse, seafood sources would shrink.

After two hours, the group had brought back more than 200 kg of garbage from the sea.

One of the members, South Korean Ralley Lee, who has lived and worked in Da Nang for seven years, said it is "very sad" to see that many coral species have died on the seabed due to pollution.

"I want to work with the people of Da Nang to protect corals," she said, adding that she would continue diving to pick up trash.

Dao Dang Cong Trung, 44, started the campaign a decade ago.

Back in those first days, Trung, who owns a diving certificate granted by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, could only remove 20 kg of trash per day by himself.

"To make the sea cleaner, we need more volunteer divers to pick up trash," said Trung.

"Fortunately, many people support the idea of learning how to dive to cut ghost nets and ‘untie’ corals. Thanks to their efforts, the marine environment will certainly be cleaner."

August 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

Dao Dang Cong Trung shows the garbage he collects after a diving in August 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

It was Trung who guided and trained other members on diving techniques to make sure everyone was equipped with the skills necessary to dive safely and protect corals properly.

These days, members of the group call each other at 5:30 a.m. every morning to meet at the beach for morning exercises and prepare for snorkeling and diving.

Nguyen Thi Tra My, 27, a triathlon athlete who represented Vietnam at the 31st SEA Games last year, joined the group early this summer after watching a video Trung shared on Facebook.

Even as a professional swimmer, My admitted to having difficulties when diving as the pressure causes her tinnitus, eye pain, and fear.

"But after many dives with Trung, I have improved and even encouraged him to open classes to train young people," she said.

Those who want to join the Danang Freediving group must be able to swim in the sea for more than 200m. Then they will be trained for one month in the best practices of snorkeling and diving.

The group now has over 1,200 members.

August 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

A member of Da Nang Freediving group removes a ghost net from a coral reef of the coast of Da Nang, August 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

My said that every time she dives, she feels like she’s on a "field trip" exploring a new world.

Duong Thi Xuan Lieu, an official at the Son Tra Peninsula and Da Nang Tourism Beaches Management Board, said the city’s groups like Danang Freediving joining hands to protect the marine environment are something to be proud of.

"This is a very meaningful activity, contributing to the protection and conservation of coral in Son Tra Peninsula," she said, adding that the board aims to have more such groups clean up the sea in the future.