Vietnam: ‘Crazy guy’ aims to save ocean from waste

Every time he goes out to catch seafood, Tran Van Cuong, from Phu Vang District, Thua Thien Hue Province, collects plastic cans, bottles and bags to raise money for poor students, while contributing to the protection of the ocean.

Over the past 20 years, whenever Cuong went fishing, he saw a lot of rubbish in the sea.

“I thought that if garbage was dumped into the sea, sooner or later the environment would be polluted, and the source of fish and shrimp would gradually become exhausted. So, I decided to pick it up and put it on the ship and carry it ashore. I have done this for many years,” said Cuong.

Endlessly picking up the ocean rubbish has earned him the nickname “crazy guy.” But he doesn’t think he is crazy at all.

For years, Cuong has had the idea of using recycled plastic waste to build flood-proof boats to give to the poor, and thereby giving people a sense of protecting the marine environment and a means of transport in the flood season.

“Now, there are not as many fish and shrimp as before. About 50% is seafood, the remaining 50% is garbage. On many trips to the sea, we pick up more trash than fish,” Cuong said.

In recent years, the problem of plastic waste at sea in Thua Thien Hue has decreased but not significantly.

“The situation of plastic waste has lessened due to the effect of the ‘Green Sunday Movement’ launched by the Thua Thien Hue provincial People’s Committee. However, the change is not much. Many fishermen clinging to the sea like me are worried about the widespread plastic waste,” said Cuong.

“Every day, people throw trash into the sea, and soon the sea surface turns into a garbage dump. As every household living near the sea does this, others follow. It’s sad to see this. Garbage on the shore could be treated by faster, easier ways such as placing public rubbish bins in convenient areas on the beach. Sometimes, volunteer groups come to clean up the trash. But with garbage floating in the sea it comes to an end.”

In the rainy season, when ships can’t go to sea, there is no one to collect the waste. So after every flood, garbage drifts ashore and piles up. Many tourists are not conscious of preserving the environment, so garbage on the beach is a huge problem.

If this situation continues, it will not be possible to develop marine tourism, and fishermen will also have reduced incomes.

Raising funds for charity

Some years ago Cuong had the idea of collecting garbage in the sea and sorting it to sell to raise funds for poor children.

“At first, I collected and sorted garbage to keep the marine environment clean. Later, the number of plastic bottles accumulated after each trip to the sea and they were sold to raise money for scholarships for poor children,” he said.

Cuong is also the cofounder of the Club of Young Fishermen and has carried out many meaningful programs to protect the sea.

“Since hearing that I launched the movement to collect plastic waste to recycle and sell for charity, there have been many organizations wanting to cooperate in promoting the movement of collecting plastic waste at sea,” he said.

Le Hoanh Thanh, secretary of the Youth Union of Thuan An Town, said: “Currently, the Club of Young Fishermen headed by Cuong aims to ensure jobs for fishermen at sea and prevent plastic trash dumping. Members of the club regularly collect waste and the members of Youth Union come to receive and sell bottles to raise funds for poor students.”

Chairman of the Thuan An Ward’s People’s Committee Dao Quang Hung said that the model had a positive impact on the perception of Thuan An fishermen and the marine areas. Hundreds of ship owners and fishermen are more and more interested in protecting the sea.

Cuong believes that there is no better solution to protecting the ocean than by improving and raising people’s awareness.