Authorities in Vietnam’s central city of Da Nang are reviewing the plan for a controversial construction project on a peninsula to the north of the city that is home to a large population of endangered langurs.
The project had received government approval but has drawn strong public opposition.
Mayor Huynh Duc Tho has ordered the city’s departments of construction, environment, tourism, agriculture and planning and investment to reconsider the development plan for the Son Tra Peninsula following instructions from Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam, according to a document signed by the mayor.
In March, the city’s government announced plans to develop a resort on the eastern part of Son Tra with construction covering around 2,900 hectares (7,170 acres), or around half of the peninsula.
The plan has been approved by the prime minister, but environment and urban planning experts say construction on the peninsula, home to the country’s biggest langur population, could rob Da Nang of precious green space and turn the popular tourist city into “the most suffocating” in Vietnam.
Concerns were raised after images of forests being cleared for construction were posted on social media.
The Da Nang Tourism Association filed an online petition to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in late March, saying protection of the peninsula was needed to ensure sustainable tourism.
“There should be no further construction,” said the petition, which has received around 11,000 signatures. It said Da Nang already has enough hotel rooms to welcome 15 million tourists a year, and only received 5.5 million last year.
The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism met with the association last week but failed to reach an agreement. The stand-off prompted Deputy PM Dam to order the tourism ministry and Da Nang to consider the suggestion “with open minds”.
Son Tra is a unique habitat in Vietnam with natural forests bordered by the sea. The International Union for Conservation of Nature said a survey from 2008 found the peninsula home to at least 171 endangered red-shanked douc langurs.
The GreenViet Biodiversity Conservation Center in Da Nang has been vocal about the threats posed by road construction in the peninsula, which is a 15-minute drive from the city center.
Studies by the center found the primate reserve on Son Tra has shrunk to less than 2,600 hectares over the past decade from its original 4,400 hectares.
In March last year, around 75 endangered red-shanked doucs on the peninsula went missing after a large area of forest was cut down.
Biologist Tran Huu Vy, head of the center, said in late March that the “cementization” of Son Tra will destroy the entire ecosystem by dividing jungles and habitats, leading to inbreeding.
Light and noise at night will affect the animals’ habits, longevity and reproductive health. “We could lose the entire peninsula just by affecting one or two species,” he told VnExpress.
The Son Tra case is a typical battle between environmentalists and tourism officials.
The Southeast Asian country’s tourism industry has been developing quickly. It has set a target of attracting 11.5 million foreign tourists in 2017, up 15 percent from last year when Vietnam received a record high 10 million foreign visitors. Revenue from tourism is also projected to jump 15 percent this year to VND460 trillion ($20.2 billion).