Story: Huynh Phuong
Photos: Nguyen Tan Tuan

Boasting a coastline that stretches over 130 kilometers, Quang Ngai Province is home to various fishing and harvesting practices, including the famous sargassum seaweed harvesting in Chau Thuan Bien Village (Binh Chau Commune, Binh Son District), about 30 kilometers northeast of Quang Ngai City.

Mr. Dang Dao on his basket boat

With its rolling 10-kilometer-long beach and graveyard of ancient shipwrecks, this fishing village is one of Central Vietnam’s most ideal summer destinations. What is special about the rhythm of life in this craft village?

Sargassum – a gift of nature

Chau Thuan Bien is a gathering place for hundreds of offshore fishing vessels, which bring fresh hauls into Binh Chau Commune each morning and form a vibrant seaside market. The nearby waters are home to a rich ecosystem of varied species of fish, squid, and particularly sargassum, which thrives from June to August every year. Each summer, the locals are in high spirits thanks to nature’s rich bounty.

Carrying seaweed to shore

Sargassum is a brown seaweed that typically grows around coral reefs at depths of three to six meters. The seaweed is ready to harvest once large patches have grown enough to float on the ocean’s surface. Sargassum is both a nutritious food for coastal people and a precious, high-value medicine that can increase villagers’ income. Large-scale harvesting requires bigger vessels and oxygen compressors, while small-scale operations only require coracles or handmade rafts from which to dive in coastal waters.

Harvesting sargassum near Nhan Islet

The long rocky beach of Ganh Ca lies at the end of Binh Chau Cape (Binh Chau Commune), flanked by Nhan Islet to the left and Ao Islet to the right. Sargassum thrives in this area. The heart-shaped Nhan Islet is made of sedimentary rocks formed by long-ago volcanic eruptions. From above, we can see patches of seaweed wreathing the shiny black laterite, while underwater, fish and shrimp frolic among the swaying seaweed. For visitors, the top of Nhan Islet is the perfect spot from which to admire the boundless ocean, Ba Lang An Lighthouse, and Ly Son Island.

Spreading nets to harvest seaweed

Mr. Dang Dao, a resident of Chau Thuan Bien Village with ten years of harvesting experience, often rows his coracle about 600 meters offshore to harvest seaweed near Nhan Islet. He explained that during the harvesting season, fisherfolk sail to the islet every morning at sunrise. Strong men take charge of steering the boats and diving to cut the seaweed with sickles. As the workers harvest the seaweed, they cover an area of around 50 to 100m2 with nets to stop the cut seaweed from floating away. Workers on the boats use bamboo sticks with iron hooks to collect the cut sargassum. When their baskets are full of seaweed and the sun has reached its apex, the fishermen return to shore and sun-dry the seaweed before it is sold to merchants.

Sustainable crops

“Chau Thuan Bien and Nhan Islet have always nourished people in this area. Harvesting seaweed is hard work, and we must hurry before the sargassum grows old and withers, making it difficult to gather. Sun-drying the seaweed requires us to work under scorching heat,” said Mr. Dao. Each harvest yields about 100-150kg of dried seaweed, which fetches VND 7,500/kg (as of June 2022), earning fishing families about VND 1 million per day.

Drying seaweed on Nhan Islet

The local government is promoting many sustainable harvesting practices. This seaweed can only be harvested during the months of June through August, and about 10 centimeters of the roots should be left in place, enabling other species to survive and grow. This practice ensures that fishermen can both harvest and preserve this valuable resource, allowing sargassum to continue to develop and provide a long-term income.

Behind the scenes of the harvesting season

During the harvesting season, photographers from across the country flock to Chau Thuan Bien to capture magnificent photographs and learn about this craft. From above, the scenes are vibrant, as spectacular green nets contrast with the brown sargassum, while boats rowed by strong tanned men seem to dance around the nets. Among the vast waters and skies, people on small coracles try to make a living from Mother Nature’s gifts. While hardscrabble, their lives have always been lively, with no dull moments as they work amidst the deep blue sea, the sun, and the wind.