In September 2005, the World Heritage Centre was informed by IUCN about a number of serious conservation issues allegedly threatening the World Heritage value of Ha Long Bay, including water pollution from coal mining wastes; live coral extraction and sale; destruction of mangrove forests; degradation of water bodies from construction of tourism and recreation facilities; and other impacts of inappropriate tourism infrastructure developments.
The World Heritage Centre sent this information to the State Party on 22 September 2005, and the State Party submitted a detailed response on 15 March 2006. The State Party notes that the reported threats occur only in the buffer zone or outside the property and have no impact on the property at present. The State Party provides the following information:
a) Limited pollution from coal mining wastes occurs in the buffer zone. This is closely monitored, does not impact the water quality of the property, and is addressed through a range of activities initiated by Quang Ninh Province in cooperation with the coal industry, including the development of a master plan for the future of the coal industry.
b) Destruction of mangrove forests continues to be a problem in the buffer zone and outside the property, where they are replaced by aquaculture dams, urban or industrial development. From 1998-2003, 2,509 ha of mangrove forests were destroyed, i.e. 11% of the total mangrove forests of Quang Ninh Province. However, the Province and the Ha Long Bay Management Authority have initiated a range of activities including raising awareness, planting or replanting mangrove forests (2,196 ha from 1998-2003) and limiting further destruction.
c) The tourism and recreation facilities that were reported to degrade the property’s water bodies, as well as other tourism infrastructure developments, are all located in the buffer zone of the property and are being constructed based on approved Environment Impact Assessment (EIAs) or after approval by local authorities.
d) Thanks to a range of activities including strict enforcement and awareness-raising, the marketing of live corals has basically ended.
The State Party reports, however, that the property continues to be potentially threatened by economic development pressures, especially further urban, industrial and tourism infrastructure development.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN welcome the detailed response to the concerns raised over the state of conservation of the property and note that the reported threats occur at present only in the buffer zone or outside the property and are being addressed by the local authorities. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note with concern, however, that potential negative impacts on the property caused by these threats cannot be completely excluded, and that the property might continue to be potentially threatened, and therefore urge the Ha Long Bay Management Authority to continue its efforts to relieve or resolve the economic development pressures in close cooperation with other authorities concerned.
In November 2005, the Maritime Project Management Unit II, the executive body of the Cai Lan port construction, informed the World Heritage Centre of a possible extension project in the vicinity of the World Heritage property. This project was reported under preparation based on an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) approved by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment in 1998.
Although the port is located outside the protected zones of the property, given the assumption that such an extension project may affect the outstanding universal value of the property, the World Heritage Centre requested the State Party in January 2006 to send technical documents showing the possible impacts of the above-mentioned extension. In a letter dated 22 March 2006, the Maritime Project Management Unit II requests the support of the National Commission of Viet Nam for the extension project of the port (Stage 2 of Phase 1), as a continuation of Stage 1, which is currently under completion, based on the 1998 report and other reliable studies.
However, the World Heritage Centre considers this information insufficient to establish the appropriateness of the port extension project in terms of its potential impacts on the outstanding universal value of the property, given that the EIA was conducted eight years ago.
In April 2006, IUCN also received a report on a cement plant project, with potential negative impacts on the property. The Cam Pha cement plant is planned at Cam Thach ward, Cam Pha town, on the seashore of Ha Long Bay. Potential negative impacts on the property could allegedly come from a jetty which will be built 4km offshore into Ha Long Bay as well as air and water pollution resulting from the import and export of raw material such as clay, clinker, coal and cement.
The limited management capacity of the staff of the Ha Long Bay Management Authority is reported to impede further improvements in the conservation and management of the property. Considering the urgent need for capacity building, and the limited funds available, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN therefore encourage the State Party to submit a request for international assistance from the World Heritage Fund for capacity building, with possible technical assistance from IUCN through its Viet Nam office, for the preparation and implementation of such an international assistance request.