​The Amazing Race Vietnam under fire for challenge that threatens coral reef

The Amazing Race Vietnam under fire for challenge that threatens coral reef
This screenshot from an episode of The Amazing Race Vietnam 2019 captures a heavy structure being placed atop a coral reef. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The production team of The Amazing Race Vietnam 2019 has been criticized over the TV reality competition show’s latest episode, where contestants were asked to engage in a challenge believed to do harm to a local coral reef.

Now in its sixth edition, The Amazing Race Vietnam is the Vietnamese adaptation of the original American TV series, which features ten teams of two celebrities in a race around the Southeast Asian country for the top prize of VND300 million (US$12,900).

In its latest episode broadcast on national channel VTV3 on Saturday night, the program challenged the cast with a game involving scuba diving and solving a puzzle in the waters off the south-central province of Phu Yen.

Heavy structure put on coral reef

As part of the challenge, a steel structure consisting of three rods and four different-sized disks with holes through their centers was placed on the seabed, making a memory puzzle for the contestants.

One member of each team was required to dive down to observe and memorize the orders of the disks, before returning ashore and recreating those positions on a similar structure.

What sparked outrage from viewers is the fact that the steel structure and all the concrete disks were put on top of a coral reef, a set-up that many say may hurt the marine invertebrates underneath.

Screenshots of the episode showing the steel structure atop the coral reef were quick to go viral on Facebook, attracting negative comments from social media users.

“Wow, so not only polluting the ocean, you are smashing the coral as well,” an account named John Master commented on a Facebook page for expats in Ho Chi Minh City.

“I bet there will be soon an only place to see a coral in Vietnam, probably […] behind a glass,” another account named Oliver Sepp wrote in his comment.

This screenshot from an episode of The Amazing Race Vietnam 2019 captures a heavy structure being place atop a coral reef. Photo: Tuoi Tre

This screenshot from an episode of The Amazing Race Vietnam 2019 captures a heavy structure being placed atop a coral reef. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Ngoc Anh, the winner of the 2015 edition of The Amazing Race Vietnam, also took to her personal Facebook page to criticize the show producers for an action that she said would leave “negative impacts on the ecosystem of coral in the locality.”

Anh, now a professional diving trainer, also condemned the show’s contestants in the same episode, as they were seen catching and holding sea creatures such as starfish and sea cucumbers with their hands “just for fun.”

“As a former contestant and a supporter of The Amazing Race Vietnam, I hope that the producers will be more careful with every single piece of content they broadcast, because they can affect viewers’ perception of marine ecosystems,” Anh said in her Facebook post.

‘We made a mistake’

Dang Do Viet Hung, an expert in marine biology from Marine Life Vietnam, said that people who go diving have to obey a number of rules, including not touching sea creatures, once they are under the water.

This not only keeps them safe from poisonous sea animals but also protects marine life, Hung told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

According to Associate Professor and Doctor Vo Si Tuan, director of the Institute of Oceanography in the south-central city of Nha Trang, it takes thousands of years for a coral reef to grow.

Echoing this view, Hung said coral grows very slowly, adding only a few centimeters to their length a year.

“Coral can be ‘stressed’ or even dead if they are hit with only very small impacts,” Hung said.

“The death of the coral will greatly affect the entire ecosystem that depends on the marine animals,” the expert added.

He also emphasized that coral can only grow in some sea areas that offer special living conditions.

A contestant of The Amazing Race Vietnam 2019 is seen catching a starfish while diving under the sea in this screenshot

A contestant of The Amazing Race Vietnam 2019 is seen catching a starfish while diving under the sea in this screenshot.

However, Hung said the impact that The Amazing Race Vietnam 2019 caused on the Phu Yen reef is not considerable.

“But it is inappropriate to air such scenes as heavy objects being placed atop a coral reel or people ‘playing’ with sea creatures [on national TV] as it could lead to misperception that those behaviors are acceptable,” Hung added.

The production team of the Vietnamese reality show addressed the issue and posted an apology to the public on their official Facebook page on Sunday.

According to the Facebook post, the original idea was to ask the team members to swim through the beautiful coral reef to an area of the seabed where there were only rock and sand to see the puzzle questions and solve them on a strip of beach sand.

“However, due to unexpected changes in the level and opacity of sea water, we had to change the location of the challenge and by doing so, we made a mistake for choosing an area that houses a coral reef,” the post reads.

The producers said they only wanted to help the contestants observe the challenge easily and improve filming quality.

The production team said they admitted their mistake and would like to send their sincere apologies to the show’s viewers and the Phu Yen sea.

“We have also drawn a lesson from this experience and we guarantee that such things will not be allowed to happen again.”

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