Water conservation: Barking up the right tree

(No.2, Vol.3, Mar 2013 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Photo provided by Nguyen Ngoc Hai
From left: Prof Tran Hieu Nhue, students Nguyen Tri Hay, Nguyen Thanh Liem, Ly Cong Hien and teacher Nguyen Ngoc Hai.

Cajuput bark abounds in the Mekong Delta. The trees are used in construction, making furniture, producing oil and charcoal, and the leftover bark litters many places. In an effort to protect the environment, three students from grade 11 at the An Lac Thon secondary school, Ke Sach District, Bac Lieu Province, in the Mekong Delta, took cajuput bark to test whether it could absorb oil, which is being increasingly released into the environment by economic expansion.
They also tested dried hyacinth and coconut fiber, which also abound in the Mekong Delta.
They found cajuput bark was best at absorbing oil, particularly in an environment in which there are both oil and water.
So the students, Ly Cong Hieu, Nguyen Thi Hang and Nguyen Thanh Liem, guided by teachers Nguyen Ngoc Hai and Dinh Thi Ngoc Bich, decided to try the idea at places that release a lot of oil into the environment, such as gas stations and machinery repair places, particularly those that operate right over a river.
According to their research paper, they tried at ten gas stations and ten machinery repair concerns. The result is that cajuput could absorb as much as 97 per cent of the released oil.
The students then made carpets out of cajuput bark and placed them on the floors of land-based businesses with oil pollution. Teacher Nguyen Ngoc Hai explained that: ‘At concerns that operate over a river, they used cajuput bark and plastic bottles to make a rope, and floated the rope around the place then dropped cajuput carpets into the surrounded area.’
The brainchild got the top prize at the national competition on ideas to improve the use and protection of water sources, organized by the Ministry of Education and Training, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment and the Vietnam Association for Conservation of Nature and Environment in June 2011.
The group also went to Sweden in August 2011 to present their idea at the World Water Week.
Teacher Nguyen Ngoc Hai said that since 2004, he has guided and financially sponsored for students at An Lac Thon School to do 40 projects on water environment. 19 projects have won awards. However, the application of the ideas has been limited to concerns that were selected to participate in the research projects.

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