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World Heritage Convention

Decision 23 BUR IV.B.45
Ha Long Bay (Vietnam)

At its twenty-second session, the Bureau had noted that the Government of Vietnam/JICA study on environmental management for Ha Long Bay had commenced in February 1998 and was to be completed in October 1999. The Bureau was informed of the loan agreement signed (March 1998) by the Government of Vietnam and OECF, Japan, for the construction of the Bai Chay Bridge, to link Bai Chay Beach to Ha Long City across the Bai Chay Bay. The agreement foresaw a feasibility study as well as an environmental impact assessment of the bridge construction project. At its twenty-second extraordinary session the Bureau noted that the State Party had provided the Centre with several documents relevant to the consideration of the impacts of the various construction projects proposed for implementation in coastal and marine areas in the vicinity of Ha Long Bay.  The Bureau urged the Centre and IUCN to undertake a thorough review of the information provided by the State Party and due to be generated via on-going and proposed donor financed studies and conferences. The Observer of Vietnam informed the twenty-second session of the Committee (Kyoto, 1998) that his Government considers that the preservation and conservation of the World Heritage site should proceed in harmony with the socio-economic development of the area.  He noted that initial results of the JICA Environmental Management Study indicated no serious environmental impacts in the World Heritage area and that final results are likely to provide a clearer picture.

The Bureau was informed that IUCN Vietnam and the Centre participated in a seminar, hosted by the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) and the World Bank Office of Vietnam, in Hanoi and Ha Long City, Vietnam, from 6 to 8 April 1999. The seminar was organized with the co-operation of the Hai Phong and Quang Ninh Provincial Governments. It reviewed options for the comprehensive development of the Haiphong-Quang Ninh coastal zone that includes the Ha Long Bay World Heritage area. As part of the seminar, a visit to the World Heritage area was arranged for all participants, including representatives of bi- and multilateral donor agencies. The field visit helped to raise the awareness of the international conservation significance of the site and drew attention of the donors to the need to address a range of potential threats to the integrity of the site arising from the rapid socio-economic development of the surrounding region.

Representatives of the Government of Vietnam, including those from the two Provincial Governments, made commitments concerning the comprehensive development of the Hai Phong-Quang Ninh coastal zone. They voiced their intent to protect and manage the environment of the Ha Long Bay World Heritage Area in accordance with international norms. Ha Long City, Hai Phong and Hanoi form the most important growth triangle in northern Vietnam. Development of the region is influenced by the growing affluence of the population in southern China for whom Ha Long Bay is becoming an important tourist destination. The Quang Ninh-Hai Phong coastal zone is expected to experience rapid growth in infrastructure development, particularly in transport, shipping, coal mining and tourism sectors. The key development issues that will impact the future management of the Ha Long Bay World Heritage area and possible ways to mitigate them, include:

(a) Coal loading and transport operations;

(b) Fishing communities living in ‘floating villages’ within the World Heritage area itself;

(c) Brick manufacturing industries in coastal areas in the vicinity of Ha Long Bay with potential impacts;

(d) Urban development in the Ha Long City area impacts the waters of Ha Long Bay;

(e) Deepwater ports are planned for Cai Lan and Cua Ong. Port development will increase shipping traffic and this will increase the risk of environmental damage;

(f) The development of Cai Lan and other deepwater ports in northern Vietnam must be seen as complementary to parallel efforts to restore the port in Hai Phong which is Vietnam’s second largest port. In connection with the development of the Cai Lan port, dredging activities should be avoided; dredging should be strictly prohibited within the World Heritage area;

(g) Tourism development within the World Heritage area must be co-ordinated with the overall tourism development strategy for the Quang Ninh-Hai Phong coastal zone.

The key to effective mitigation of all potential threats to the Ha Long Bay World Heritage area is a fully professional and well-resourced management agency. The satisfactory management of shipping and tourism would also greatly reduce potential threats to the World Heritage site. When the mandate, objectives, tasks, and organisational issues required to manage the World Heritage site are compared with the current structure of the management department, it is clear that the Department does not have the resources or the status to develop strategically. IUCN Vietnam has prepared a project proposal to improve the capacity of the management department, and is now looking for possible funding sources. Several recent initiatives that have occurred to guide developments and to control pollution in Ha Long Bay could also be expanded in ways by which they could contribute towards strengthening the management of the Ha Long Bay World Heritage area.

(a) The Government of Vietnam and the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) have commissioned a comprehensive environmental study of the World Heritage site and the coastal area adjacent to Ha Long town. The study is investigating a range of pollution sources and indicators and is to be concluded in October 1999. The possibility of building a second phase to the study whereby the international norms for the environmental management of the Ha Long Bay World Heritage Area are determined and the capacity to monitor them is established, is worth exploring.

(b) The project «Capacity Building for Environmental Management in Vietnam» is developing a GIS database for Quang Ninh province, which includes the World Heritage site. However, the effective management of the Ha Long Bay environment in the future clearly needs further research and studies in a number of areas, particularly biodiversity, cave morphology, visitor rates and destinations, role of fishing «villagers» resident within the Bay in environmental management and social impact of developments.

(c) IUCN Vietnam has received funding from the Royal Netherlands Embassy to develop a checklist of selected plants in Ha Long Bay. This will be included in a visitor brochure that can be used to raise awareness about the need to conserve the biodiversity of the Word Heritage site.

The Bureau was also informed that the Centre has received from the UNESCO National Commission of Vietnam a very detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Cai Lan Port Expansion Project that will be reviewed by the Centre and IUCN.

IUCN noted many threats to the site, including increase in tourism; the infrastructure developed may have potential to impact adversely on the site; the coal loading operations through the inshore waters of the Bay; large fishing presence in the Bay, and urban and industrial development. IUCN highlighted the need for effective management strategies, in particular concerning fishing and tourism and the need to strengthen the capacity of the Ha Long Bay Management Department to assist it to strategically address these issues. IUCN Vietnam has proposed a project proposal for this.

The Rapporteur suggested that co-ordination among the various donor agencies and conservation organizations active in the Ha Long Bay area would be advisable. The Delegate of Japan underlined that it is the responsibility of the Vietnam Government to co-ordinate all projects concerning Ha Long Bay.

The Bureau welcomed the expression of the National and Provincial Governments’ commitment and willingness to manage the Ha Long Bay World Heritage area in accordance with international norms befitting a coastal and marine protected area located in a region of intense economic development. The Bureau commended the efforts of The World Bank and the State Party in placing the conservation of the World Heritage area as a central theme in their efforts to manage the environment and conserve nature in the comprehensive development of the Quang Ninh-Hai Phong coastal zone. The Bureau invited the Government of Vietnam to consider upgrading the profile, status and capacity of the Ha Long Bay Management Department so that it can fully meet its responsibilities to effectively manage the World Heritage area. The Bureau requested the Centre, IUCN and the State Party to co-operate, including to develop a list of critical projects essential for building the capacity of the Ha Long Bay Management Department and for establishing internationally acceptable standards and norms for monitoring the environment of the Ha Long Bay World Heritage area. This list of projects, if approved by the Committee at its twenty-third session, could serve as a basis for negotiations between the State Party and suitable donors for supporting the conservation of the Ha Long Bay World Heritage area.  Furthermore, the Bureau requested the Centre to contact The World Bank Office in Hanoi, and concerned authorities of the Government of Vietnam to explore possibilities for co-ordinating the work of the numerous development and conservation organizations active in the Ha Long Bay area.

Decision Code
23 BUR IV.B.45
States Parties 1
State of conservation reports
1999 Ha Long Bay - Cat Ba Archipelago
Context of Decision