Minister Mark Harbers @ Mangrove Living Lab
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TU Delft inaugurated the Mangrove Living Lab in Vietnam last week. Here, ideas for restoring mangrove forests to protect the Mekong Delta from water are being tested. Minister Mark Harbers of Infrastructure and Water Management visited the lab, which was made possible thanks to the long-standing cooperation in education and research between TU Delft and Thuy Loi University in Hanoi.

With rising sea levels, land subsidence, and extreme weather conditions such as severe storms, mangroves in the Mekong Delta play an essential role. They are a natural coastal protector. Due to deforestation, environmental pollution, and population growth, the forests have become severely depleted and degraded. And that results in coastal erosion. “The Vietnamese government is putting a lot of money into planting a new forest, but a solid knowledge base was still lacking,” explains Marjan Kreijns, director of The Green Village at TU Delft Campus. “Under what conditions exactly do young trees thrive? What role does sediment transport or plastic pollution play?”

In the new Mangrove Living Lab, Vietnamese academics can now conduct hands-on research into natural solutions for coastal management, the functioning of existing concrete dikes, and alternative ways to mitigate the effects of climate change. The researchers gather knowledge through field research, long-term monitoring, and experiments. The Living Lab is also expected to present the lessons learned and potential natural solutions for coastal management in Vietnam.

A new generation of Vietnamese engineers

The Mangrove Living Lab exemplifies the flourishing cooperation between Thuy Loi University and TU Delft. They have worked together in the field of water management and coastal defense for more than 30 years. “A fantastic success story,” Marjan Kreijns calls this collaboration. “What once started as sharing Dutch knowledge in the field of delta management is now an equal partnership. We learn from our Vietnamese partners and they learn from us.”

In 2005, Kreijns, stationed in the region, became involved in the cooperation with Thuy Loi University and continued it from Delft six years later. Students from Vietnam came to Delft thirty years ago for a master’s degree or doctoral program. Today, Dutch TU students regularly go to Vietnam for internships and research. “The Faculty of Coastal Hydraulic Engineering at TLU is now mature and has a good reputation internationally, thanks partly to the influx of academics partly educated in Delft. It increasingly serves as the knowledge base of Vietnamese water and coastal policy,” says Kreijns. “In the Netherlands, we have no mangroves. It makes sense for the Vietnamese government to consult its own experts instead of Western consultants. Twenty years ago that was not possible, now it is.”

Mangroves are like dunes

Minister Harbers expressed enthusiasm for the collaboration. “Great to see and hear how knowledge is shared at this place. The mangroves are a natural solution to protect the land from water, just like the dunes in the Netherlands are. According to research data, these mangroves protect even better than concrete dikes. A great example of how new knowledge can make for a safer and cleaner area.”

The idea for the Mangrove Living Lab in Vietnam came about during a visit to The Green Village on TU Delft’s campus, says Assistant Professor of Hydraulic Engineering Le Hai Trung. At The Green Village, various applications are tested to keep the urban living environment livable in more extreme weather conditions due to climate change. That a similar Living Lab is now coming to Vietnam makes Trung proud. “I was so inspired when I first saw The Green Village in Delft. I immediately knew we also had to have something like that in Vietnam.”