Feature Story

Protecting crabs is protecting livelihoods and ecosystems in Vietnam

November 3, 2017

Cham Islands, Viet Nam
A GEF Small Grants Programme project on Viet Nam's picturesque Cham Islands has been instrumental in protecting local ecosystems and improving livelihoods through careful regulation of land crab harvest and consumption.

Being just a 30-minute boat ride away from the coast of Hoi An, one of Viet Nam’s most visited world heritage sites, the Cham Islands, have become a popular tourist destination. The eight islands sit at the center of a marine protected area and boast a lush tropical forest and great environmental and marine diversity, including approximately 277 species of coral, 270 species of marine fish, five species of lobsters and 97 species of mollusk.

Among the island’s rich biodiversity is an endemic species of large land crab locally named “Cua Da” (Gecarcoidea lalandii). While the land crab is associated with marine fauna, this species mainly lives in nearby terrestrial forests, with females migrating to the coast to release their eggs during their breeding season. As such, this crustacean is considered a “bridge” connecting terrestrial forests with the marine environment, and is a biological indicator of the health of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. It is also an important resource for the community, as it significantly contributes to local livelihoods. Unfortunately, the Cua Da crab population was getting severely depleted due to overharvesting and the significant increase of tourists to the island.

“Tourists come and they love to eat the land crab and that is a livelihood for local people, but the land crab should not disappear from the islands. If the crab population is going down, that means the forest’s health is disturbed.” Dr. Chu Manh Trinh, University of Da Nang.

The Gecarcoidea lalandii species of land crab, locally known as Cua Da, is endemic to the Cham Islands and a popular delicacy for visiting tourists. However, prior to the GEF SGP project, overconsumption of these crabs threatened the islands' delicate ecosystems.

To rehabilitate the population of land crabs, the Hoi An City Peoples Committee issued a decision to suspend the harvest of and trade of the G. Lalandii in the Cham Islands. However, illegal harvest and trade activities continued to affect the population of land crabs despite this new push for local regulation.

With the aim to develop a sustainable model that could help protect the land crab, between 2010 and 2013, the GEF Small Grants Programme supported a community-based conservation and sustainable harvesting project that enabled the local community to create a successful system that guarantees sound Cua Da crab conservation and harvest.

The project key activities aimed at rehabilitating the Cham Island’s land crab ecosystem; sustainably harvesting, managing and protecting the land crabs; conducting a study to collect information about the biological and ecological characteristics of the land crab; increasing awareness and capacities of local communities, and building a co-management model to protect and harvest sustainably local natural resources.

As a result, the community established a working group and provided training to local communities on conservation of the G.lalandii; developed the plans and regulations for the sustainable management of natural resources; established a group of guards and catchers of land crabs, and developed rules for community-based monitoring and sustainable harvesting of land crabs, along with labeling and certification.

Since the project has finalized, the cooperative has become a self-sufficient institution that oversees the monitoring of the harvest zones, times and seasons. It has also adopted a regulation mandating that only crabs bigger than 7cm get the label certifying that they have been sustainably harvested. Catchers weigh, count and label the crabs for sale, returning young ones back to their habitat. Thanks to this system, along with an annual harvest limitation of 10,000 crabs, the cooperative is having a positive impact in protecting the Cua Da crab, raising its commercial value, and reducing pressure on the adjacent coral reefs.

“In the past, the income was very low because there was no proper management. Now, the income increased because the land crab has a brand name and is widely promoted. We sell them at a good price and our lives have improved,” said Vo Van Hien of the Crab Harvesting Team.

Only labeled crabs can be sold in the markets of Cham Islands. Regulating the harvest has helped the crab population to recover.

Viet Nam is the host country for the upcoming sixth GEF Assembly meetings, which will take place in June 2018.

Photos by Patrizia Cocca / GEF and Ana Maria Currea / GEF SGP