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Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago

Date of Submission: 27/01/2017
Criteria: (vii)(viii)(ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Viet Nam national Commision for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Quang Ninh Province and Hai Phong City
Coordinates: E107 07 21.8 - N20 49 48.4
Ref.: 6177

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


In 1994 and subsequently in 2000, Ha Long Bay was recognized by UNESCO as World Natural Heritage under criteria (vii) and (viii).  Covering a total area of 434 km2, it comprises 755 islands and islets lying within the latitude from 20°43’12’’N to 20°56’14’’N and the longitude from 106°59’35’’E to 107°20’31’’E.

In September 2013, Cat Ba Archipelago nomination dossier was submitted under the criteria of biodiversity to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The nominated property is 336.7 km, of which terrestrial area is 134.78 km and marine surface 201.92 km delineated in the latitude from 20°35’57.9”N to 20°52’48’’N and the longitude from 106°53’55’’E to 107°12’55’’E. And its buffer zone is 130 km (wide including 39.84 km of land and 90.16 km of sea surface. After the evaluation, the International Union of Conservation for Nature (IUCN) drafted the Decision No. WHC-14/38.COM/INF.8B to present to the World Heritage Committee at its 38th session in Qatar in 2014, in which the IUCN recommended: “the State Party to consider the possibility of proposing an extension of Ha Long Bay under criteria (vii) and (viii) and possibly criterion (x), to include Cat Ba Archipelago”.

Accordingly, the extension of Ha Long Bay to include Cat Ba Archipelago under the criteria approved by UNESCO plus the bio-diversity criteria ensures its consistency, helping preserve sustainably the outstanding universal values (OUV) for the generations today and future in conformity with the World Heritage Convention.

New nomination of Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago has obtained high consensus and agreement from both central and local governments as well as scientists.

Heritage site is situated in both Quang Ninh province and Hai Phong city, about 150 km far from Ha Noi in the South East and 165 km in the North East.

Its central coordinates are 107 07 21.8 - 20 49 48.4.

Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago Property: Located in Ha Long city, Quang Ninh province and Cat Hai district, Hai Phong city in the North East of Viet Nam, about 165 km far from Ha Noi. Its total area makes up 770.7 km2 , in which Ha Long Bay World Heritage accounts for 434 km2 including 775 islands and islets. Ha Long Bay Cat Ba Archipelago is an exceptional example of mature karst in sub-tropical wet conditions. Its outstanding value contains marine invaded karst topography with numberless majestic limestone towers, and particular characteristics of arches and caves caused by coastal erosion, creating an amazing natural landscape. On the 17 th December 1994, at the 18th session of UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Thailand, Ha Long Bay was for the first time inscribed in World Natural Heritage List for its outstanding aesthetic value (criterion vii) under the World Heritage Convention. The similarity of the aesthetic value between Cat Ba Archipelago and Ha Long Bay can be shown in the limestone kart terrain sunk under the sea which comprises hundereds of majestic limestone towers wrapped by primary tropical forest on the largest island, creating a striking landscape on the blue sea. Thereby, the extention of Ha Long Bay including Cat Ba Archipelago under the aesthetic criterion (vii) ensures the long-term integrity of the heritage of Ha Long Bay and the Archipelago of Cat Ba.

Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago property is also the most prominent illustration on marine invaded karst towers and bears the global importance on tower karst (fengling) and peak – cluster depression (fengcong). Typical peak-cluster depression in Ha Long Bay is shown as expanding valleys inundated by the sea (known as “Tùng”) or sunk cluster depression (known as “Áng”). One of other typical fengcong characteristics is big closed marine lakes, sunk lakes, and some of those just appearing upon tide rising. Cave is another remarkable geological feature, including 3 main types: old phreatic caves, karst foot caves and notch caves. This site illustrates fully processes of karst formation on a large scale and demonstrates a long period of geological evolution. On the 2nd December 2000, at the 24th session in Cairns city, Queensland, Australia, the World Heritage Committee adopted the second recognition for Ha Long Bay as World Heritage under the criteria of geology and geomorphology. Similarly, Cat Ba Archipelago landscape values are characterized as marine invaded karst limestone terrain along with hundreds of picturesque limestone towers wrapped by prestine tropical rain forest on blue water which creates a spectacular natural beauty. Cat Ba Archipelago is an outstanding example of marine invaded karst towers and one of vital fengling and fengcong karst sites, in which particular characteristics of karst fengcong can be found in the lake of Ang Vem, sunk lake of Ang Tham, and some lakes only appearing when the tide rises such as Ang Toi and Ang Sang Lake. Another noticeable geological feature is the existence of 20 caves including old phreatic caves, foot caves and notch caves. This site also illustrates adequately a process of karst formation at a large scale and demonstrates a long period for geological and geomorphological evolution. Cat Ba Archiplelago and Ha Long Bay opens great possibility for expansion of Ha Long Bay world natural heritage to include Cat Ba Archipelago under criterion (vii).

Ha Long Bay - Cat Ba Archipelago property is the best example for high concentration of typical tropical and sub-tropical ecosystem surpassing the other places in Asia in that it includes the most particular and the largest limestone island ecosystem, including an enormous primeval tropical rain forest on limestone island, mangrove forest, coral reef, tidal flat and marine lake. Due to its isolation from the mainland, over 18000 years of its history, many endemic and rare species having universal values are still under conservation and evolution in Cat Ba Archipelago. Among them, 76 species are recorded in the IUCN Red List, particularly Cat Ba langur or white-headed langur is listed as 1 of 25 most critically endangered primate species, which need urgent protection and conservation. Regarding conservation and promotion of outstanding values of Cat Ba Archipelago, the Prime Minister approved the Decision No. 79-CP dated 31st March 1986 to establish Cat Ba National Park. It is the first national park on the sea. On the 2nd December 2014, UNESCO recognized Cat Ba as the World Biosphere Reserve. On 17th September 2003, the Prime Minister adopted the Decision No. 192/2003/QĐ–TTg on Systematic Management Strategy for Viet Nam Natural Protected Areas toward 2010, in which the marine area of Cat Ba Archipelago was recognized as one of Viet Nam Marine Protected Areas. In 2012, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MoSCT) included Cat Ba Archipelago as a national-level monument, and the State Prime Minister conferred the title of special national-level monument to this site. Cat Ba Archipelago represents 6 typical ecosystems including (i) tropical rain forest, (ii) mangrove forest, (iii) tidal flat, (iv) marine lake, (v) coral reef, and (vi) soft bottom. To date, 3,860 species, both inland and at sea, have been found here, in which there are 2,154 terrestrial species accounting for 55.6% of total species, 1,695 marine species (44,2 %), 11 fresh water fish (only 0,2 %). Among 3,860 species, there have been 130 species included in the Red Lists of Vietnam and IUCN (namely, 76 species in rare category by IUCN). Especially, Cat Ba langur or white-headed langur becomes 1 of 25 most critically endangered primate species, requiring an urgent protection and global - level conservation (Statistics of Cat Ba Archipelago World Natural Heritage, 01/2013). In terms of bio-diversity, according to the statistics made by the Institute of Marine Enrironment and Natural Resources (IMER) in 2009, 2,949 species of fauna and flora are identified in Ha Long Bay including 1,259 terrestrial species, 1,553 water basin species, 66 species of reptile and amphibian living both in land and under water, and 71 birds. There exists nearly 102 species of plants and animals critically endangered at various levels in the sea and islands within Ha Long bay and nearby. Among them, many species are endemic and rare only appeared in Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago such as Cycadaceae tropophylla, Livistona halongensis, Jasminum alongense,  etc.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

According to the World Heritage Convention, Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago can be considered to extend under two criteria (vii) and (viii) and additionally two bio-diversity criteria (ix) and (x) for a new World Natural Heritage nomination.

Extension under criterion (vii): Ha Long Bay extension to include Cat Ba Archipelago would build a spectacular natural sculpture. Thousands of limestone islands and islets arising up from the Ha Long Bay waters combined with these 388 in Cat Ba Archipelago reflecting on Lan Ha Bay in various shapes creates a unique intact landscape. Until now, the property has still kept its original states and remained non-degraded in spite of presence of human for a long time. Its major highlight is picturesque limestone towers mixed with the most exceptional notch caves, arches, and caves.

Extension under criterion (viii): Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago is the most preeminent and considerable illustration on karst towers of 1,163 marine invaded islands (775 on Ha Long Bay and 388 on Cat Ba Archipelago). It is also one of the world’s important karst sites for fengling and fengcong. Having one of particular characteristics of karst fencong  (peak - cluster depression or fengcong), it holds closed marine lakes, sunk lakes, some of them just appearing in times of rising tides or staying high above on island slope. Cave system is also its noticeable geological characteristic including such 3 main types as old phreatic caves, foot caves and notch caves, some of which have stayed pristine and intact. This region fully shows a karst development process on a large scale and illustration for a long period of geological evolution. 

Additional criterion (ix): Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago is seen as a superlative tropical and subtropical ecosystem model in Asia, particularly the largest limestone island ecosystem in Asia. It also has the highest – level tropical and subtropical bio-diversity which is typical, adjacent and subsequent within one property such as insular tropical rain forest, mangrove forest, tidal flat, marine lake, and coral reef. These ecosystems represent on–going significant ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of insular and marine ecosystems and communities of 21 endemic species of plants and animals. Over 18000 years of its history, the property has preserved its highly original nature in spite of human appearance 7000 ago.

Additional criterion (x): Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago is the great bio-diversity center of the world including many outstanding universal and rare species ranked by the IUCN. Typically, it contains 3,860 species of insular and marine fauna and flora in Cat Ba Archipelago and about 2949 species in Ha Long Bay. 130 rare species are named in the Vietnam and World Red Lists. Among them, 76 species are found in rare category of the IUCN, 21 species are endemic such as Cycadaceae tropophylla, Livistona halongensis, ect. In particular, Cat Ba endemic langur (Trachypithecus poliocephalus) that IUCN classifies as a universal conservation value has population of only 63 individuals left in the world and distributed only in Cat Ba. Additionally, many of others are identified by IUCN as critically endangered status (CR).

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

All required elements showing adequately the OUV of Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago are located within the nominated property as mentioned above and protected by a large buffer zone surrounding. The property is situated in the region where tourism, transportation, fishing, and other livelihood activities of citizens take place. However, these activities have been strictly managed and controlled. Accordingly, nature landscapes, aesthetic values, geological and geomorphological values, bio-diversity and important features of limestone islands and caves within the site have been kept intact.

i) The property fully contains values of aesthetics, geology and geomorphology plus 6 typical ecosystems existing in almost original state, being a foundation for on-going biological and ecological processes. It is a high bio-diversity center including many rare and precious species considered to bear OUV. These values meet the criteria (vii), (viii), (ix) and (x) of the World Natural Heritage.

Nominated Ha Long Bay - Cat Ba Archipelago is located in northeastern Vietnam, undergoing long geological history, once being part of the Caledonit fold structure putting the end to the Katszzia hydrography regime in late Siluar. During the long evolution, 1,163 marine invaded islands have been formed in Ha Long Bay - Cat Ba Archipelago, which makes it become one of the most important regions of karst fengling and fengcong terrains. Moreover, there presents 6 subtropical ecosystems including (1) primeval rainforest on the largest limestone island of Vietnam, typical of the world, (2) the most developed coral reef ecosystem in the Gulf of Tonkin, (3) the largest intact mangrove ecosystems on islands, (4) tidal flat ecosystem with unique mosaic fouling organisms, (5) marine lake ecosystem, a particular highlight in geological evolution, only found in Ha Long Bay - Cat Ba Archipelago and few countries in the world, and (6) relatively flat sea bottom ecosystem covered by blue sea waters reflecting the shapes of more than 1,000 islands coated with vegetation, together with karst caves system it forms a unique spectacular landscape found no elsewhere. (Source: Tran Duc Thanh, 1998, Ha Long Bay geological history)

Nominated property of Ha Long Bay - Cat Ba Archipelago is a high bio-diversity center having  3,860 terrestrial and marine fauna and flora in Cat Ba Archipelago and 2,949 species in Ha Long Bay In particular, 130 species belong to the Vietnam and IUCN Red List (76 included in the IUCN rare category).

Especially, the Cat Ba langur or white-headed langur (Trachypithecus poliocephalus) is endemic to the site, with population of only 63 individuals left in Cat Ba Island and found nowhere else in the world. Accordingly, IUCN recommends it be listed as species in high danger of extinction, requiring urgent protection. Moreover, it is considered as world-wide recognized rare and precious species that have OUV and symbolized as Cat Ba icon. The existence of 21 endemic species in Ha Long Bay - Cat Ba Archipelago demonstrates an on-going evolution and continuous formation of new species here.

 (ii) The nominated property has adequately large area and favorable environment to maintain and develop aesthetic, geological and geomorphological, ecological and biodiversity values.

(1) The nominated property has enough space for conservation of values

Total nominated world heritage area of Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago is 770.7 km, including 1,163 islands and water basin surrounded. All values of aesthetics, geology, geomorphology, typical ecosystems, and species have been recognized and recorded. The rare species are located within the range of property and have been protected strictly well.

The property contains the entire area of primary forest on karst islands, mangrove forest, coral reefs, marine lakes, sand beaches and tidal flats. The property also has 76 rare and precious species listed by IUCN, in which 63 individuals of Cat Ba white-headed langur having outstanding universal value are living and developing. This place is also a refuge for migratory birds from the North.

The area of buffer zone is large enough for ecological economic activities, ensuring its function of protecting the property.

(2) The environment of the nominated property is favorable for the development of evergreen tropical rainforests and organisms.

Annual absolute humidity is 24.7 mb on the average, the highest valueat 32.6 mb in July, and the lowest 15.1 mb in January.

Relative humidity is rather high, about 85% on the average annually. Early in winter, it varies from 77% to 82% and in the remaining months it reachesover 83% wheredamp, foggy air occurs. Between September and November, it goes down at 77% and the sky is often clear. Therefore, in the third quarter and early fourth quarter of the year, the sky is blue and clear, abundant sunshine, favorable for photosynthesis and development of plants.

Surrounding seawater quality is relatively good. Water temperature varies largely, depending on the air temperature. During the year, it is lowest in February, around 15°C, and the highest in July, when the surface water temperature may rise up to 31°C. Seawater turbidity slightly changes, and does not have a large difference among the seasons, with an average of 30 mg/l. Water salinity ranges from 19‰ (in August) to 34‰  (in February). In dry season, salinity is high and stable, ranging from 30 – 34‰ and the average salinity 32.5‰. During this time, there is a weak salinity stratification in which the salinity at the bottomis up to 1‰ higher than the surface. The seawater pH fluctuates within a narrow interval from 7.9 to 8.3. Dissolved oxygen concentration changes from 5.12 to 7.27 mg/l. Heavy metal concentration is in the allowed range.

 (iii) Undertaking to nominate Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago as the World Natural Heritage has received the agreement of local communities and authorities, and central agencies so as to protect the outstanding universal values of on-going biological and ecological processes, bio-diversity and environment.

Nomination of Ha Long Bay - Cat Ba Archipelago as a new world heritage has obtained a broad agreement among the inhabitant communities. The local authorities (Quang Ninh and Hai Phong) and the central agencies and offices of Vietnam have strongly supported it. Determination to protect the heritage values of Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago have arisen from the will of the local inhabitant communities and Vietnam authorities, which is illustrated through the policies, and specific actions to protect the property sustainably.

The property has been protected effectively through relevant laws of the State and the Government's Decrees such as: Laws on Cultural Heritage, Biodiversity, Tourism, Environmental Protection, and Fishery. Based on this, all activities which take place within the area of heritage and have an impact on the heritage require the approval of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the relevant ministries.

Soon after Ha Long Bay had been recognized as World Natural Heritage, Management Board of Ha Long Bay was established with the role of managing, conserving and developing values of the heritage. The Board strictly observes stipulations of the World Heritage Convention, implements recommendations of the World Heritage Committee and enforces related State’s laws and Government’s Decrees and Quang Ninh province’s decisions. In addition, the regular management work attracts participation and active coordination from all relevant departments and local communities in order to maintain the integrity of heritage areas and supervise social and cultural activities in the Bay. The management and conservation works are also enhanced through the regulations, master plans and action plans of the province, such as: Ha Long Bay Management Regulation, Environmental Protection Planning, Heritage Management Plan, Heritage Management Plan, provisions in terms of managing tourist boats, dredging sludge, reclaiming sea land, disposing garbage, managing residential areas and floating houses, organizing propaganda to raise public awareness of heritage conservation.

Besides, there are specific plans on environmental protection, development and management of tourism and conservation plans, especially the master plan on conservation, management and promotion of values of World Natural Heritage Ha Long Bay toward 2020 approved by the Government in 2001 and the master plan on management of World Natural Heritage Ha Long Bay in the period of 2010-2015 approved by People's Committee of Quang Ninh Province in 2010. The long-term orientation for the management of heritage focuses on the following issues: ensuring intact aesthetic, geological, geomorphological and environmental values of the property; properly improving policy mechanisms; managing and supervising closely socio - economic activities; applying sciences and technologies in heritage management; continuing to clarify the values of the heritage; strengthening capacity of heritage management; raising the awareness of local community, attracting them to join the management and protection of the heritage.

For Cat Ba Archipelago, the Management Board of Cat Ba National Park was established in 1986, Management Board of Cat Ba Biosphere Reserves built in 2004. Especially, Cat Ba Archipelago Natural Heritage Management Commission was established in 2012 to coordinate overall management, conservation work and promotion of all values of the property. This Commission cooperates closely with relevant agencies and local communities in order to monitor and protect the outstanding universal values and the integrity of the property. Belonging to this Commission, there are Cat Ba National Park, Management Board of Cat Ba Biosphere Reserves, and Management Board of Cat Ba Bays. These agencies’ functions are manage, conserve and develop heritage values, ensuring the implementation of regulations written in the World Heritage Convention, and at the same time implementing relating laws of State, decrees of Government and decisions of Hai Phong city. Regularly, relevant departments at all levels and local communities join in and coordinate to maintain the integrity of the property and supervise cultural and social activities in the Archipelago. Therefore, until now there has been no threat towards the outstanding values of the property. Socio – economic activities in the island as well as on the sea are regulated clearly, managed and monitored tightly and effectively.

Management and conservation is also enhanced with regulations, master plans and action plans of Hai Phong city such as regulations on management of tourist boat, sludge dredge, sea reclamation, garbage disposal, residential areas and floating houses, propaganda and education, and communities’ awareness of property conservation. In addition, there are detailed plans on environment protection, tourism development and management; and conservation plans, especially the overall management plan of Biosphere Reserves, the overall plan of conserving, managing and developing values of Cat Ba National Park until 2020 and the Project of conserving Cat Ba white-headed langur which is receiving special attention from international organizations, such as: the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations (ZGAP), Münster Zoo, Australian Foundation for the People’s of Asia and Pacific (AFAP).

The long-term orientation for management works of the property focuses on: conserving the intact natural scenic values, values of typical tropical and sub-tropical ecosystems, native endemic species bearing OUV and environment of the property; continuing improving the policy mechanism, managing and monitoring strictly socio – economic activities; applying sciences and technology into heritage management; enhancing research of heritage values; upgrading capacity to manage heritage; raising people’s awareness and attracting them to management and protection works of heritage values.

Comparison with other similar properties

Proposed property of Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago can be compared with the World Heritage Puerto-Princes Subterranean River National Park (Philippine), Thungyai - Huai Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries (Thailand), Phong Nha - Ke Bang (Quang Binh province, Vietnam). These heritage sites have similarities in aesthetic beauty, biodiversity and rare species having outstanding global values. Phangnga Gulf, near Krabi of Thailand is the most similar in terms of aesthetic beauty and protection. The other similar characteristics can be found in El Nido of Palawan and North Korea.

Regarding biodiversity, Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago have many similarities, especially surpassing values compared to above heritage sites. For example, comparing with the World Heritage Puerto-Princes Subterranean River National Park, both properties are formed with karst structures. Accordingly, the clearest similarity is tropical rainforest on limestone mountains and marine ecosystems, which leads to high biodiversity in these two sites, including various endemic species and primary tropical rainforest on limestone mountains, but larger rainforest in Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago. Also, terrestrial fauna and flora of Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago is significantly more diverse than Puerto-Princes Subterranean River National Park, particularly in that Cat Ba Island has up to 1,561 high plants while only 800 found in Puerto-Princes Subterranean River National Park. Similarly, Ha Long – Cat Ba owns 53 animal species while Puerto-Princes Subterranean River National Park has 30. Cat Ba langur or white-headed langur is recognized as rare and precious species bearing outstanding universal value. Mangrove forests in both sites are considered to be important nationwide and have significant role in protecting biodiversity. Besides, Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago contains coral reef distributed in large areas, including more than 166 reef-building species classified. Both sites have a buffer zone surrounded by large sea areas, ensuring to protect the properties.