1.         Ha Long Bay - Cat Ba Archipelago (Viet Nam) (N 672ter)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1994

Criteria  (vii)(viii)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/672/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1996-2018)
Total amount approved: USD 163,145
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/672/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount provided to the property: USD 100,000 under the Youth Volunteers for Cultural Heritage Preservation project (2003-2006); USD 519,000 for Cua Van Floating Cultural Centre, a component of the Ha Long Eco-museum (funded by the Government of Norway, for the period of 2003-2006).

Previous monitoring missions

January 2003, December 2006: World Heritage Centre mission; November 2013: IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission; July 2018: IUCN Advisory mission

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/672/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2023

On 30 November 2022, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property, available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/672/documents, which reports the following:

On 3 June 2022, the World Heritage Centre shared third-party information with the State Party concerning new infrastructure and tourist facilities along the coastline in Ha Long city. On 15 March 2023, the World Heritage Centre sent a letter to the State Party outlining third-party concerns received in January and February 2023 regarding water pollution (garbage, plastic and fuel) within the property which inhibited tourism activities (swimming and kayak tours in caves). No replies have been received from the State Party at the time of writing of this report.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

The continued progress in addressing the 2018 IUCN Advisory mission recommendations and Committee decisions, including finalization of a new Management Plan and carrying capacity study, and implementation of waste management measures are welcomed.

The various measures to address waste management mentioned above are also appreciated. It is also positive that water quality is reported to be within allowable national limits. Notwithstanding this progress, various actions remain to be implemented and noting also third-party concerns regarding impacts of waste on tourism experience and operations, it is recommended to implement and further strengthen measures to address the issue, as necessary, including implementing the planned upgrade of wastewater treatment of attractions in Ha Long Bay and the closure of industrial activities including coal mining and cement activities in the Ha Long area.

The completion of the 2021-2025 Management Plan for the property is noted with appreciation, specifically confirmation that it takes an integrated approach focused on protecting the OUV of the property and managing impacts from the buffer zone, is based on the “Enhancing our Heritage” management effectiveness assessment, and was developed in consultation with stakeholders from government, local communities and businesses. The review and updating of master plans for 2021-2030 (vision to 2050) at the national, provincial and site level, is an opportunity to strengthen the integration of planning documents; however it is unclear how the development of such a plan at the site level relates to the new Management Plan and how the implementation will be coordinated between the site management authorities and the Provincial and City People’s Committees in order to ensure the alignment and integration of any parallel processes to revise plans and regulations that relate to the management of the property.

Recalling the concerns that the expansion of new infrastructure and tourist facilities are already compromising the broader landscape values and risk to affect the OUV under Criterion (vii), the various reported actions to improve sustainable tourism are noted with appreciation. Given the importance of a strategic approach to tourism management for the property, the finalisation of the carrying capacity study and initiation of the Sustainable Tourism Development Strategy are welcomed. However, as tourism development pressure continues increasing, with further infrastructure developments reported by third-parties, the State Party should be encouraged to complete the Strategy, with the support of experts in the field of sustainable tourism as needed, and based on the carrying capacity of the property, as soon as possible.

Recalling that the buffer zone, in relation to existing industrial activities and its use and management regime, was not clear, it is recommended the State Party provide the requested map with current boundaries of the property and its buffer zone, with clear indications of industrial areas as well as details on the use and management regime within the buffer zone, as soon as these are available following the revisions of the aforementioned master plans and regulations.

Decision Adopted: 45 COM 7B.89

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/23/45.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decision 44 COM 7B.98 adopted at its extended 44th session (Fuzhou/online, 2021),
  3. Commends the State Party for the continued progress in addressing the 2018 IUCN Advisory mission recommendations and the Committee requests, including a new Management Plan for the property, waste management, carrying capacity study, and initiating a sustainable tourism strategy;
  4. Notes with appreciation progress to address sustainable tourism management including completion of a carrying capacity study and initiation of the Sustainable Tourism Development Strategy, and requests the State Party to ensure that tourism development is based on carrying capacity and to finalise the strategy with the support of sustainable tourism experts as needed, for review by the World Heritage Centre and IUCN;
  5. Also notes with appreciation various waste management measures including regulating wastewater treatment in cruise ships, closure of the largest open-pit coal mine in the Ha Long area, promotion of a “green” economic transition, and that water quality is within allowable national limits, however notes with concern that pollution remains an issue in the property and urges the State Party to continue and further strengthen measures, as necessary, including to implement the planned upgrade of wastewater treatment of attractions in Ha Long Bay and closure of industrial activities including coal mining and cement activities in the Ha Long area;
  6. Welcomes the completion of a new 2021-2025 Management Plan for the property (vision to 2040), and also requests the State Party to:
    1. Provide clarification on how the planned “Master Plan for 2021-2030 (vision to 2050) to preserve and promote the value of Ha Long Bay’s World Heritage site” relates to the Management Plan,
    2. Ensure any processes to revise national, regional and site-level plans and regulations related to the management of the property are appropriately aligned and integrated and coordinated between the site management authorities and the Provincial and City People’s Committees;
  7. Reiterates its request for the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, for review by IUCN, a map with a clear indication of the current boundaries of the property and its buffer zone, including details on the use and management regime within the buffer zone, in line with Paragraph 164 of the Operational Guidelines;
  8. Finally requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2024, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 46th session.

Decision Adopted: 45 COM 8B.3

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Documents WHC/23/45.COM/8B and WHC/23/45.COM/INF.8B2,
  2. Recalling Decisions 18 COM XI, 24 COM XA.2 and 44 COM 7B.98 adopted at its 18th (Phuket, 1994), 24th (Cairns, 2000) and the extended 44th (Fuzhou/online, 2021) sessions respectively,
  3. Approves the significant boundary modification of Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam, to include the Cat Ba Archipelago to become Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago, Viet Nam, on the basis of criteria (vii) and (viii);
  4. Takes note of the following provisional Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:

    Brief synthesis

    Ha Long Bay - Cat Ba Archipelago is located in the North East of Viet Nam, 165km from Ha Noi, including Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba National Park, Cat Ba World Biosphere Reserve and Cat Ba marine areas, which is one of the most important areas in the world for karst tower landscapes (fenglin) and the peak-cluster depression (fengcong), and an excellent example of karst matured in humid tropical conditions containing limestone karst terrains flooded by the sea, with a multitude of majestic limestone towers, and features of shore erosion such as notches and caves. The property has contributed to completing the stages of the process of sea-inundation of tropical karst through examples of the terrestrial and intertidal stages.

    Criterion (vii): Ha Long Bay-Cat Ba Archipelago is an outstanding karst example of fengcong and fenglin matured in humid tropical conditions. The outstanding value of this property is the limestone karst terrain being invaded by the sea with a multitude of majestic limestone towers and features of shore erosion, such as the notches, caves creating a wonderful natural landscape. These features are being in almost original conditions which are rarely found anywhere else in the world. Cat Ba Archipelago adds a new dimension to the property, being by far the largest island in the region and, further, it is also a high island with inaccessible wilderness interior, marked by steep, rocky, forested peaks and a myriad of hidden lakes, labyrinthine coastal inlets, and jigsaw puzzle shaped islands.

    Criterion (viii): Ha Long Bay - Cat Ba Archipelago is the product of deep dissection of extensive areas of Paleozoic limestones that were uplifted as a consequence of the collision of the Eurasian and Indo-Australian tectonic plates. It is an outstanding and large sample of the sea-invaded karst tower terrain and one of the most important areas in the world for the fenglin and fengcong karst. The transition from terrestrial cone karst to marine-modified tower karst is superbly displayed at Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago. The commencement of the present phase of karst evolution responsible for the modern landscape around Cat Ba Archipelago dates from the Pliocene, when uplift would have rejuvenated the landscape by providing more relief and reactivating groundwater circulation. The sequence of geomorphic evolution that followed is now coming to its final stages in Ha Long Bay, but is less advanced on Cat Ba island. The property displays beautifully the progression of landforms from coastal hills to the sea, and in detail reveals the shoreline complexities that arise from repeated shifts of sea level. These include cones, enclosed depressions (cockpits), interior draining valleys (poljes), karren, subterranean streams, caves with speleothems, and an array of these features partly drowned by the sea and modified by coastal processes.

    Integrity

    All the necessary elements fully reflecting the outstanding universal values of the Ha Long Bay - Cat Ba Archipelago are located within the property as described above and protected by a surrounding buffer zone. In the property, many human activities occur such as tourism, marine transportation, sea product exploiting, and other activities conducted by inhabitant communities living on the sea and islands. However, the natural landscapes, aesthetics, geology, morphology, biodiversity, and typical features such as limestone islands and caves within the property have been maintained and kept intact.

    The boundaries include the existing Ha Long Bay World Heritage Site, most of Cat Ba National Park, Cat Ba World Biosphere Reserve, Cat Ba marine protected areas and Long Chau Island group. Additionally, the entire areas of Cat Ba Archipelago belong to the protected areas of the Cat Ba National Special Scenic Site, which is the most highly classified according to Vietnam’s heritage laws, and therefore the extended Cat Ba Archipelago is strictly protected in an effective manner.

    IUCN already recommended in 2013 that Cat Ba Archipelago be included in the World Heritage Perimeter. The extension will help to better protect the intrinsic values of the property at present and in the future.

    The State Party convenes further research and consultation to consider the enlargement of Cat Ba National Park according to the IUCN recommendations.

    Protection and management requirements

    Internationally, Ha Long Bay was recognized by UNESCO as World Natural Heritage in 1994 and 2000, the Cat Ba Archipelago was recognized by the UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve in 2004. Nationally, the Government of Viet Nam ranked Ha Long Bay as a National Scenic Site in 1962 and a Special National Monument in 2009; the Cat Ba Archipelago was designated as a National Park in 1986, a Marine Protected Area in 2003, and was ranked as a Special National Monument in 2012. Accordingly, Ha Long Bay - Cat Ba Archipelago is effectively protected through relevant laws of the State and Decrees of the Government such as Law on Cultural Heritages, Law on Biodiversity, Law on Forest Protection and Development, Law on Tourism, Law on Environmental Protection, Law on Fisheries, Law on Inland Waterway Navigation, Law on Natural Resources, Environment, Sea and Island. On the basis of available legal framework, all activities occurring in the Heritage area that may affect the value of the heritage must be approved by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and other relevant agencies.

    Ha Long Bay is directly protected and managed by the Ha Long Bay Management Board. At the same time, the Cat Ba Archipelago is protected and managed by Cat Ba Archipelago Natural Heritage Management Board (whose main human resource is recruited from the Management Board of Cat Ba National Park, Cat Ba Archipelago Biosphere Reserve, and Management Board of Cat Ba Bays). These units base themselves on their assigned functions and tasks as well as the relevant provisions of Vietnamese and international law to implement and carry out the activities of managing and protecting the property. In addition, systematic coordination between the management boards of the two sites is in place. Regular management of the property also receives the active participation of all levels, relevant sectors and local communities monitoring cultural and socio-economic activities happening in the property, maintaining its global outstanding values, and ensuring its integrity.

    Socio-economic activities in the site are clearly defined and monitored closely and effectively. Management and preservation have also been strengthened through the regulations, master plans and action plans of Quang Ninh province and Hai Phong city, such as: regulations on the management of cruise ships, dredging of sludge, encroachment of seas, discharge of waste, population, and floating farmhouses, as well as education and awareness raising for the communities on heritage preservation. Besides, there are specific plans for environmental protection, tourism development and management, conservation planning, especially the Master Plan for Conservation, Management and Promotion of Ha Long Bay World Natural Heritage until 2020 has been approved by the Government and the comprehensive management plan of Ha Long Bay World Natural Heritage in the period of 2010 - 2015 approved by the People's Committee of Quang Ninh Province in 2010 and that of 2017 - 2021 period approved by the People's Committee of Quang Ninh Province in 2017. The Cat Ba Archipelago Biosphere Reserve comprehensive management plan, Master Plan for Conservation, Management and Promotion of Cat Ba National Park until 2020 have been approved by the People's Committee of Hai Phong City. Cat Ba Langur Conservation projects have attracted the interest and attention from the international organizations. Long-term orientations for heritage management focus on such issues as: ensuring the integrity of the natural landscape, geological, geomorphologic and environmental values of the property; continuing to institutionalize current coordination platform;  closely supervising and monitoring socio-economic activities; applying science and technology into heritage management; conducting more research to clarify the values of the property; enhancing heritage management competencies; raising public awareness of the communities and involving them in the management and protection of the property, studying the development of a monitoring plan and management indicators in order to manage the property effectively and efficiently; additionally, ensuring to assess impacts of projects on both environment and heritage before implementation as per Paragraph 118bis of the Operational Guidelines.

  5. Recommends that the State Party give consideration to the following:
    1. Revise the boundaries of Cat Ba National Park to align with the boundaries of the Cat Ba Archipelago extension to the Ha Long Bay World Heritage property,
    2. Revise development projects of all kinds in conformity with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, undertake Heritage Impact Assessment for any relevant projects in the buffer zone and adjacent to the buffer zone and continue strengthening the legal protection status of the buffer zone,
    3. Expand the existing ecological carrying capacity analysis conducted for Ha Long Bay to the entire property, ensuring effective tourism management that respects the Outstanding Universal Value of the property,
    4. Revise and complete the management plan to address key threats to the property and strengthen law enforcement accordingly, including threats from mass tourism, a major shipping lane, growth of settlements, poaching, exploitation of marine resources and forest products, overfishing, unsustainable aquaculture, pollution (oil, noise, sewage, litter, including from river catchment inputs), and significant developments in the buffer zone, and consider to study the development of a monitoring plan and management indicators in order to manage the property effectively and efficiently,
    5. Continue appropriate consultations with the local communities, particularly those who might be affected and be relocated from the core area, and conduct support policy and programmes to facilitate the integration of the relocated communities, including subsidy financial schemes and social services, and consider assessing the needs of relocated communities in order to ensure adequate support from the State Party;
  6. Encourages the State Party to also consider nominating the property under criterion (x);
  7. Requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 December 2024, a report on the implementation of the above-mentioned recommendations for review by the World Heritage Committee at its 47th session.

Decision Adopted: 45 COM 8D

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/23/45.COM/8D,
  2. Recalling Decision 44 COM 8D adopted at its extended 44th session (Fuzhou/online 2021),
  3. Acknowledges the excellent work accomplished by States Parties in the clarification of the boundaries of their World Heritage properties and commends them for their efforts to improve the credibility of the World Heritage List;
  4. Recalls that the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies are not able to examine proposals for minor or significant modifications to boundaries of World Heritage properties whenever the delimitations of such properties as inscribed remain unclear;
  5. Takes note of the clarifications of boundaries and areas provided by the States Parties for the following properties, as presented in the Annex of Document WHC/23/45.COM/8D:

AFRICA

ARAB STATES

ASIA AND THE PACIFIC

EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA

LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN

6.    Requests the World Heritage Centre to continue the identification and collection of geographic and cartographic information of World Heritage properties in nominations where the required information is not available or not adequate;

7.    Also requests the States Parties which have not yet answered the questions raised in the framework of the Retrospective Inventory, to provide all clarifications and documentation as soon as possible, and by 1 December 2023, for their subsequent examination, if the technical requirements are met, by the 46th session of the World Heritage Committee.