Vietnam’s fish kill remains unexamined

By Khuong Van Dinh (Science 26 Jul 2019)

In April, 2016, the discharge of untreated waste containing cyanide, phenol, and iron hydroxides from the steel industry in the Vung Ang Economic Zone (VAEZ) led to the death of many tons of fish along more than 200 km of Vietnam’s coastline (1). The fish kill destroyed many sensitive coastal marine ecosystems in the area, including coral reefs (2). Rapid industrialization in the VAEZ (3) and along the coast of the South China Sea (4) further threatens the future of these ecosystems.


Questions remain about the short- and long-term effects of the mass fish kill along Vietnam’s coastline in 2016.

The steel industry has accumulated approximately 1 million tons of steel slags, exceeding Vietnam’s hazardous waste thresholds (5), yet new operations centers will soon allow factories to boost production even further (3). The expansion of the steel industry continues in the stark absence of any published studies examining the short- and long term effects of the 2016 chemical pollution and fish kill on local ecosystems or local fishers’ livelihood.

The South China Sea has one of the most biologically diverse marine ecosystems on Earth [Fig. 3B in (6)], but it is also one of the most polluted (7). It is identified as a high-priority area for marine conservation (8). If no scientific investigation is conducted to determine the consequences of the 2016 fish kill incident, the ecological impacts could last for decades, seriously accelerating biodiversity loss [Fig. 3A in (6)] and affecting ecosystem services in the region (6) The Vietnamese government should establish a national research program focusing on the long-term ecological consequences and the recovery of the coastal and marine habitats. The research program should have a transparent application procedure, and proposals should be internationally reviewed to increase the quality of studies. An online and open-access database for environmental monitoring and ecosystem status of the affected region should be created and regularly updated. International collaborations are of crucial importance given the lack of highly qualified human resources for environmental risk assessments in Vietnam and other countries around the South China Sea.

Khuong Van Dinh
School of Biological Sciences, Washington State
University, Pullman, WA 99164, USA.

1. R. C. Paddock, “Taiwan-owned steel factory caused toxic spill, Vietnam says,” The New York Times (2016);

2. H. Nguyen, “Photos of the sea bed after environmental incidents,” Tiênphong (2016); [in Vietnamese].

3. “Formosa Ha Tinh tested No. 2 coke dry quenching,” Dan Tri (2018); xa-hoi/formosa-ha-tinh-van-hanh-thu-nghiem-lo-caoso-2-20180516073807203.htm [in Vietnamese].

4. Vietnam Industrial Zone Portal (

5. Viet Nam News, “Formosa waste exceeds hazardous thresholds” (2019);

6. B. Worm et al., Science 314, 787 (2006).

7. J. R. Jambeck et al., Science 347, 768 (2015).

8. E. R. Selig et al., PLOS One 9, e82898 (2014).

Science 26 Jul 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6451, pp. 333
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay6007