When Thien Binh first moved to Binh Lap village, Cam Lap commune, at the beginning of the year, she was surprised to see the beach right next to the village covered in plastic waste.
Locals used to refer to it as a "carpet" that hindered fishermen’s efforts to take their boats out to sea.
Binh, 41, explains: "Every day hundreds of plastic bags containing fish food and household wastes are dumped directly into the ocean because Cam Ranh Bay is a cage aquaculture area. The wind blows them back onto beaches."
Because the commune lacks a landfill or collection and treatment facilities, she and her son decided to pick up the trash, burn it and bury it the next morning.
Thien Binh and her son clean the beach next to Binh Lap village, Khanh Hoa Province, in June, 2022. Photo courtesy of Binh
She and her 12-year-old son traveled from Hanoi to Phu Quoc Island in June 2021, and rented a house on Ham Ninh Mountain to unwind after being confined at home for too long due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Her son seemed happier and felt healthier breathing in the clean, fresh rural air, and she was inclined to give up urban life.
After spending six months in Phu Quoc, they decided to relocate to Binh Lap since it was well known for its clear blue water, long white sandy beach and pristine beauty.
"But pollution was the first thing I noticed when I came here.
"Cam Lap has over 300 households with nearly 700 people, and a total area of more than 21 square kilometers but without a waste collection or treatment facility."
She says locals hire people to collect all the waste from shrimp cages and plastic bags and bottles, which are then burned on the beach or just dumped in the water to wash up on the beaches.
Unable to bear the sight of the blue sea littered with garbage and the stench of fish carcasses washing ashore, she along with her son and a friend began to clean the trash around their house and take it home to burn or bury in the garden.
But garbage would repeatedly wash ashore.
However, the trio kept at it, collecting and burning, never giving up.
Locals dubbed her crazy and a busybody after seeing her picking up trash and going around to households to tell them not to discharge waste into the sea and instruct them on how to handle it safely.
Plastic bottles and bags litter the shore in Cam Lap Commune on July 15, 2022. Photo courtesy of Binh
Nevertheless, some joined their clean-up efforts.
She says: "No one will believe you if you continue to urge people to protect the environment but do nothing yourself. I hope people change their mind and clean up garbage along the coast in Cam Lap and its neighboring places."
Binh set up a group she called "Touch Blue" in June, a reference to the color of the sea, to bring more people together.
Within a month or so it had nearly 400 members, including fishermen and others interested in protecting the marine environment from across the country.
Besides daily garbage collection with five or six main members, Binh also organizes a garbage collection program for adults and children coming from other provinces on weekends.
On July 23 and 24 more than 20 people came from Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan provinces, Nha Trang and Hanoi to Cape Ca Dao near the village to clean up trash.
Nguyen Minh Duc, 47, the social media manager for an environmental activist group, says marine pollution is a problem that deserves to get more public attention.
He says he is glad to see that urban people have started showing interest in cleaning up beaches.
Some members of his group have come to Cam Lap to clean up trash with Binh, while those who could not make the trip are cleaning up beaches wherever they live, he says.
He hopes Binh's group and other small environmental protection organizations will join forces to form a large marine protection network that will expand to more areas and prevent pollution of beaches across the country.
Members of the Touch Blue group clean up trash in Cam Lap Commune’s Binh Lap Village on July 10, 2022. Photo courtesy of Binh
Nguyen Van My, chairman of the Cam Lap Commune people's committee, says Binh's group might be new but has already helped improve the environment in the area despite the fact there is no place to dump waste or gather it.
"The activities of the group are not only timely and necessary, but also help to create a civilized life for locals."
The commune people's committee is currently working on a plan to collect garbage and submit it to higher authorities for approval, he reveals.
Once there is a specific program, the local government would coordinate with the group and tourism businesses to organize collection and transport of garbage to proper treatment facilities, he says.
Binh says that many beaches and rocky rapids in Cam Lap have become clean.
White sand has gradually reemerged from under garbage, as has the sea, which is became bluer, and shrimp farmers have stopped dumping their wastes and are carefully collecting them instead, she says.
Along with raising public awareness, Touch Blue also plans to buy machines to process plastic wastes and sell to recycling facilities.
The proceeds will be used to support marine environmental protection efforts in future.
"The sea where I live is very beautiful now.
"I wish there are more hands to help protect and clean the coast of Vietnam, not just Cam Ranh."
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