|Everlasting: A view of Ha Long Bay. Communities and businesses are getting involved in sustainable tourism to help protect the bay. — VNA/VNS Photo Minh Duc
by Minh Thu
HAI PHONG (VNS) — Communities and businesses are getting involved in sustainable tourism to help protect Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba, managers of the sites said at a meeting held yesterday in Hai Phong.
The Ha Long – Cat Ba Alliance held its second leadership committee meeting to review tourism activities during the year and discuss environmental protection at Viet Nam's leading tourist destination.
Accordingly, site managers, local authorities and business representatives discussed designing certification standards for cruise ships in line with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, and financial, technical and policy requirements. They aim to put in place a cost-effective collection and treatment system to manage cruise ships' waste water.
Pham Thuy Duong, head of Ha Long Bay's management board, said a club was founded to protect the bay's environment with the support of the provincial government. The club is active in raising people's awareness about protecting the environment.
"We are divided to focus on different groups of people such as locals, foreigners, domestic tourists and students, which allows the information to work more effectively," she said.
"We also co-operate with Japanese specialists to set up bio-toilets at some tourist spots in the bay, grow mangrove forests and experiment with eco-boats, which run with bio diesel fuel."
Since last year, people from floating villages in the bay have been resettled on land to keep the environment clean. Among the hundreds of floating villages, Cua Van, Vung Vieng and Hoa Cuong have been preserved as destinations for tourists.
Villagers can choose to continue their traditional trade of catching seafood or join the tourism sector by rowing boats and guiding tourists. The provincial government also organises vocational training for them.
"Transboundary environmental problems are complicated," said Susan Sutton, deputy chief of mission for the US Ambassdor.
"Only if we come together to solve our shared challenges and propose creative solutions can we create conditions for positive change.
"Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Archipelago have a shared marine eco-system. The alliance offers great potential to strengthen the value of this ecosystem and also to support expansion of the World Heritage Site to include both Ha Long and Cat Ba."
Sutton said companies that utilise the waters of Ha Long and Cat Ba need to ensure their activities do not cause harm. They must, at the minimum, comply with laws on environmental protection.
Jake Brunner from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) suggested some incentives for certified boats such as: approval to open new tourism routes, access to co-operative advertising with the Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism, and participation in international trade shows.
Representing tourism companies in Ha Long Bay, Dao Manh Luong, director of Ha Long Bien Ngoc Company, said many enterprises have committed to protect the environment and develop sustainable tourism.
"I think travel cruises are not the only reason the sea is polluted," he said.
"The authorities and Ha Long Bay managers should involve transport boats. Every day many kinds of boats travel in the bay, and they also need to meet the environmental standards."
The Ha Long - Cat Ba Alliance was established last year to build partnerships between the Government, business and rural societies to improve environmental management of the bay in the northern province of Quang Ninh and Cat Ba Archipelago, which is part of the port city of Hai Phong.
The alliance also planned to extend Ha Long Bay — UNESCO World Heritage Site to include the Cat Ba Archipelago — a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve comprising more than 300 islands, which makes up the southeastern edge of Ha Long Bay.
UNESCO has 10 criteria for selecting a World Heritage Site. Six of them are for cultural sites and the other four are for natural sites. To be added to the list, a site must be of "outstanding universal value" in at least one criterion. In 1994, Ha Long Bay was inscribed as a natural World Heritage Site under criteria vii (beauty) and viii (geology). In recent years, the province has taken steps to improve onshore and offshore environmental management. Hai Phong is interested in nominating the adjacent Cat Ba Archipelago as a World Heritage Site under criteria x (species).
The alliance would support a nomination of Ha Long Bay as the Ha Long Bay-Cat Ba Archipelago World Heritage Site under criteria vii, viii and x.
The US Government funded the initiative through USAID. Accordingly, the IUCN and Viet Nam's Centre for Marine Life Conservation and Community Development (MCD) took up the mission to create sustainable tourism certification standards for cruise ship companies, provide technical advice on the management of Ha Long Bay and advise on the proposed addition of the Cat Ba Archipelago.
Two short films were released to promote tourism in Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba. They also called on people to protect the environment at the same time. — VNS