This report has been prepared in response to the issues raised by the World Heritage Committee in its Decision 31COM 7B.23. The World Heritage Committee requested the State Party to provide information on the state of conservation of the property, focusing in particular on the extent and effectiveness of implementation of the existing policies and plans as well as the capacity building project, and any direct or indirect impacts of the construction of the new coastal highway. The decision also requested the State Party to withdraw permission granted to operate jet-skis within the property, and to reconsider and cancel the plans to develop a tourism resort on Lam Bo Island and major infrastructure in the Cua Van floating village. The State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property which was received by the World Heritage Centre on 10 February 2009.
The State Party reports that the Quang Ninh Provincial People’s Committee approved a series of investment priority projects on 29 April 2008 that respond to the approved Master Plan to 2020 for management, conservation and promotion of Ha Long Bay. Although detail is in general not provided on the projects, nor specific budgets, these appear to include a range of actions that are positive including capacity building, education, scientific surveys and the restoration of coral reefs. Some other projects listed include improvements to boating channels, dredging and improvements to tourism sites.
The State Party reports on actions in relation to a number of activities. It notes that 2,214 people currently live in three floating villages within the property. The State Party has recognised the historical existence of fishermen, as well as the need to minimise growth of their settlements. The State Party also notes that inadequate waste management systems, low levels of awareness and illegal settlement remain challenges. Challenges with aquaculture include the continued need for action against illegal floating farms, and the State Party reports that there is over-exploitation of marine resources. Continued regulation is reported on in relation to coal production and processing.
427 tourism boats are reported as operating within the property, which are all subject to regulated waste water and solid waste collection. The quality of these vessels is said to be improving. The report also notes a series of actions to enhance environmental protection in the property, which include a significant investment in monitoring equipment, waste treatment and awareness raising campaigns and strengthened enforcement.
The report notes that the institutional strengthening project, carried out with support of the World Heritage Fund, will be finalised in October 2009, and has been implemented in partnership with the country offices of UNESCO and IUCN.
In relation to the requests of the World Heritage Committee, the State Party indicates that it has issued a law banning jet-ski operation in the property since July 2007. The State Party also cancelled the construction on Lom Bo Island, although it notes that a study of the values of this island is still being pursued, which could lead to eco-tourism development. It also reports that no further infrastructure has been constructed at Cua Van Floating Centre.
The report also mentions three significant developments which are understood to be located outside the property, but could affect its values: the construction of a highway in Ha Long City, which includes significant coastal defences, the Cam Pha Cement Plant and the CaI Lan Port, where an expanded port with dredged channels has come into operation.
The report of the State Party provides very few details of any of these developments and no specific information on their impacts.
The State Party report also includes an analysis of the achievements and shortcomings of the management of the property, and indicates commitments to the implementation of a range of conservation and management activities. The challenges noted by the State Party include slower progress than desired, limited effectiveness of restoration activity and difficulties with enforcement. The report attributes these shortcomings to the combination of the large socio-economic challenges, the variety of actors, the rapid economic growth of the area, lack of comprehensive legal and management tools, and a need for further management capacity.
In the view of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN, the State Party report provides a good indication of both significant progress, and substantial challenges that will be part of the long term management of this property. The State Party is making concerted efforts to address these challenges, however these efforts will need to be sustained and increased in future. The banning of jet-skis and the cancellation of the Lom Bo development are positive, although it is important that even eco-tourism development on Lom Bo that is currently being assessed is not permitted, unless it has been confirmed that it will not impact on the values of the property. The location of the Cua Van Cultural Centre remains problematic, due to the sensitive location in a flooded doline, and in principle this could be better located in a less sensitive place. However it is welcome that there has been no reported further development of the infrastructure since the last report on the property.
In these circumstances the property would seem to be an ideal candidate for a concerted application of a “management effectiveness programme”, coupled with a coordinated investment of financial support from the State Party and international partners, in order to assist the management of the property to move to a higher level, and to further enhance the capacity of the Ha Long Bay Management Board. The regulation of boat traffic remains a key issue and the replacement of diesel engine boats is also seen as a key priority. It is also increasingly questioned whether Ha Long Bay is providing the world-class tourism experience it should represent, and more careful attention to the quality of the experience offered to visitors and the management of public use and interpretation is required.
The values of the property will also remain under significant pressure from economic development activities, and the continued issues of pollution and waste management. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider in particular that the impacts of adjacent development are underestimated and given insufficient attention in the State Party report, and the rapidly growing amount of land filling to the north of the property is of significant concern and is beginning to reduce the quality of experience of Ha Long Bay, and threatening its Outstanding Universal Value. The routine application of Environmental Impact Assessment, to international standards of best practice, of all significant developments is urgently required, which could influence the decisions taken by the various bodies who regulate and manage some key pressures on the property. Finally the integration of the management of the property into a broader programme of Integrated Coastal Zone Management, linking the work of Quang Ning Province and Hai Phong City would also be of benefit.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN also note that, in the context of establishing effective wider protection for the property and stronger coastal conservation and management, there might also be the possibility to argue for greater international recognition of coasts, seas and islands through either the UNESCO Biosphere programme, or possibly through the eventual extension of the World Heritage property.
The ongoing partnership between the State Party with UNESCO and IUCN in the management of the property could provide a focus for a more concerted programme of support through the World Heritage Committee. Given the high profile of Ha Long Bay, the property could provide a focus for training and development of good practice within the wider region. At present however the range of concerns and pressures mean that the property is not yet living up to this potential.
Regular updates and increased monitoring of the activities adjacent to and within the property appears to be an essential requirement to enable the World Heritage Committee to remain informed on the state of conservation of the property.