Article: Huong Quynh
Photos: Lekima Hung

Heritage meets Vietnam’s “Blue Ocean Ambassador” – photographer and environmental campaigner Lekima Hung

Lekima Hung has set foot in every coastal province in Vietnam, thanks to his work as a professional photographer. He is deeply concerned about marine pollution. Wishing to spread the message of ocean conservation, Mr. Hung made a solo journey of nearly 7,000km to capture images of plastic waste along Vietnam’s coastline. Heritage spoke with Mr. Hung to help share his meaningful message.

Nhon Hai Peninsula (Binh Dinh)

What motivated you to make this special journey?

After my mom was diagnosed with cancer – a catastrophe for my family, I started looking into causes of this illness and learned that plastic waste harms the ocean in general and human health in particular. I also traveled to every coastal province in Vietnam, many of which shocked me with the extent of their plastic waste pollution. I want to lend a voice to environmental protection through my lens, by taking photos that depict the painful reality of pollution, which is brought about by the terrible amount of plastic waste along Vietnam’s coast. On this solo journey of almost 7,000km, my camera captured many shorelines piled with rubbish. The trash seems to crush most beaches, rivers flowing into the ocean, and humans. The stories my photos tell about the sea are not poetic. It is an ugly truth. I believe it is helpful because everyone will see themselves in it. I am just a human with limited abilities, however I believe every small but practical and positive action will inspire and move the community. Only when we ACT can we create CHANGES.

A beach clean-up in Nam Dinh

Why did you decide to travel alone, rather than seeking company from different associations and groups?

As you can imagine, an arduous 7,000km journey takes time, and most people must work and make money. I wanted to stay longer at many destinations to explore the local life and learn why people were littering. As a result, from the moment the idea for this journey came about I decided to go alone.

What was the most memorable place you visited?

A long beach piled with plastic waste in Tuy Phong district, Binh Thuan province is one of the places that most shocked me. So much plastic flooded the beach that I could not even see the sand. I was so disturbed by the scene that I lost all track of time taking photos. I worked all day without a break to record the sad situation.

In your opinion, what has caused this plastic pollution crisis? What are some solutions to alleviate the problem?

Although plastic was not invented until the late 19th century and mass production only began in the 1950s, by 2017, according to the National Geographic, humans had produced about 9.2 billion tons of plastic, of which more than 6.9 billion tons had become plastic waste. Up to 6.3 billion tons of this waste was improperly treated and disposed of. Plastic waste has become a global hazard, causing serious damages to economies and human health. It threatens the ocean environment in particular and Earth’s existence in general. The plastic manufacturing industry has generated countless products to serve humans’ daily activities. But how plastic waste is handled has not received much concern.

Humans are to blame for all of this litter

Vietnam’s coastline is being severely and quickly damaged for many reasons, including limited awareness of ocean conservation in certain communities.

The long-term solution to the plastic waste problem is to reduce the use of plastic products and increase recycling. More specifically for coastal regions, from what I’ve seen on my journey, I think we must improve the management of fish markets and fishing ports. These are two awful sources of nylon bags and plastic waste. There must be garbage collectors and garbage trucks so that waste can be gathered and sorted, destroyed, or recycled. To raise people’s understanding, it is necessary to promote awareness programs. Next, the long-term and sustainable solution is to educate students from an early age about environmental protection. Little things done repeatedly lead to big changes. As long as each individual builds their awareness and changes their attitudes toward the environment, greater changes will soon follow.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment appointed photographer Lekima Hung as the "Blue Ocean Ambassador" in 2019 and Vietnam Environment Awards in 2020.

What’s your next plan after this journey?

Plastic waste along coastlines comes from many countries due to ocean currents. I have set foot on many islands and sat on many uninhabited beaches where it was easy to find plastic packaging from different countries. That made me think a lot. Do we deserve this planet? What are we passing on to the next generation? An ocean full of fish or an ocean full of plastic? I look forward to and am preparing for the next journey, in which I will travel along coasts in different parts of the world, such as China, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, to record the situation of coastal plastic waste. We live on the same planet and share the same ocean. So we have a common mission to reduce the amount of plastic waste that goes into the ocean.