Cat Ba World Biosphere Reserve becomes attractive destination hinh anh 1Cat Ba township viewed from above. (Photo: VNA)

Ha Noi (VNA) – The Cat Ba World Biosphere Reserve is located on Cat Ba Island, Cat Ba township, Cat Hai district, the northern city of Hai Phong. Cat Ba archipelago was officially recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as a world biosphere reserve on December 19, 2004.

It has become a familiar destination for many tourists, especially those who are interested in ecotourism.

Many biodiversity values

Considering the three criteria of a world biosphere reserve: representativeness, high biodiversity conservation value, and opportunities for sustainable development, Cat Ba archipelago completely deserves a biosphere reserve of Vietnam and the world.

The Cat Ba World Biosphere Reserve covers a total area of 26,240 ha, 30 nautical miles from Hai Phong city. Together with Ha Long Bay, it forms an interesting island-bay complex. The Cat Ba National Park is the nucleus of the biosphere reserve, with 9,800 ha of forest and 4,200 ha of sea.

Cat Ba is one of the few areas that still maintain and preserve a diverse ecosystem. Vietnam already has very famous areas recognised by UNESCO as a world biosphere reserve such as Can Gio (Ho Chi Minh City) and Cat Tien (Dong Nai-Lam Dong).

Can Gio is the biosphere of an estuarine wetland and Cat Tien is the biosphere of a terrestrial tropical area. Meanwhile, the biosphere in Cat Ba gathers all the characteristics of the tropical forests on the limestone islands, mangrove forests, coral reefs, seaweed beds, saltwater lakes in the middle of the mountain, and especially the intertwined system of caves, including those discovered not long ago.

The conservation values of the Cat Ba World Biosphere Reserve are divided into functional zones, including a strictly protected space - core zone, a limited protected space - buffer zone, and a space for supporting and encouraging community development - transition zone.

The Cat Ba Biosphere Reserve mainly lies on the Cat Ba limestone island system, with about 400 surrounding islets where more than 70 archaeological sites of the Son Vi and Soi Nhun cultures dating back 4,000-25,000 years are still kept. Typical among these are the Cai Beo relic site, the residence of primitive people 4,000-7,000 years ago.

It can be said that Cat Ba is a major biodiversity centre in Vietnam. According to the initial investigation, there are 620 species of high-level plants of 438 genera and 123 families, including those currently only found in Cat Ba such as Nageia fleuryi, Madhuca pasquieri, Chukrasia tabularis, Cinnamomum parthenoxylon, and Smilax glabra.

The forest ecosystem in Cat Ba is very rich, including tropical lowland evergreen forest, forest on limestone slopes, apex forest, coniferous forest, mountain wetland forest, and mangrove forest.

On Cat Ba island, there are 32 species of mammals, 69 species of birds and 20 species of reptiles and amphibians. Many of them have been identified as particularly rare species named in the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species such as white-headed langur, chamois, otter, leopard, wild cat, civet, and black squirrels. Especially, the white-headed langur (Trachypithecus francoisi polyocephalus) is endemic to Cat Ba.

Besides mammals, many precious birds are also seen here, including coot, babbler and cuckoo. Cat Ba sea has 300 species of fish, 500 species of molluscs and crustaceans, many of which are of high economic and scientific research value.

Together with Can Gio mangrove forest (Ho Chi Minh City) and Cat Tien Park (Dong Nai-Lam Dong), Cat Ba archipelago is a natural protection area to preserve genes of species and maintain the stability of ecosystem for the entire biosphere.

Setting an example in environmental protection

Cat Ba World Biosphere Reserve becomes attractive destination hinh anh 2A tourist feels pleased with wild animals on the Monkey Island (Photo: VNA)

The Cat Ba National Park is located in the Cat Ba Archipelago World Biosphere Reserve recognised by UNESCO in 2004, and also in the Ha Long-Cat Ba tourist area which is planned to develop into a national tourist site. This is a typical tourist area in the work of environmental protection.

In order to create a legal framework for conservation and management activities, the master plan for conservation and sustainable development of the Cat Ba National Park in Hai Phong city to 2020 was approved by the municipal People's Committee in 2014.

The Cat Ba National Park Management Board has devised, issued and organised the implementation of regulations on coordination with the People's Committee of Cat Hai district and related forces such as army, police, border guard, and authorities of communes in the buffer zone of the national park in the management and protection of forest and marine resources, prevention of forest fires, and management of tourism activities.

The management board has also joined hands with the Ha Long Bay Management Board to develop, sign and organise the implementation of regulations on coordination in patrolling and campaigning for protection of natural resources and biodiversity between the two areas, as well as regulations on cooperation in tourism development associated with biodiversity conservation among the Cat Ba National Park, Ha Long Bay, and the Bai Tu Long National Park.

In addition, the national park has actively collaborated with organisations in supporting conservation and development programmes and projects such as the Cat Ba langur conservation project of the Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations and Muenster Zoo of Germany, the programme for Cat Ba conservation and development of Fauna & Flora International (FFI), and the Australian Foundation for the Peoples of Asia and the Pacific's Regional Natural Heritage Conservation Programme, among others.

Thanks to such great efforts, the national park has successfully protected 1,300 ha of primary forest, as well as managed and protected endemic wildlife such as golden monkey, chamois, python molurus, coucals, cuckoo, and Cat Ba langur.

Developing sustainable eco-tourism

Cat Ba World Biosphere Reserve becomes attractive destination hinh anh 3A corner of Cat Ba township (Photo: VNA)

In order to create alternative livelihoods and minimise dependence on exploitation of natural resources for livelihoods, the national park has developed the Cat Ba National Park Ecotourism Development Project, which clearly delineates areas dedicated to conservation activities and those for tourism development.

It has supported people in buffer zone communes to organise typical community ecotourism services such as Phu Long community ecotourism, build models of beekeeping, raising goats, growing clean vegetables, and planting mangrove forests combined with aquaculture and cultivation of medicinal plants.

There are many forms of ecotourism in the national park, giving tourists various options such as forest ecotourism; tours exploring primitive forest flora and fauna with endemic primates or some insects, reptiles and nocturnal animals; tours of bay and mountain saltwater lake ecosystems in Lan Ha Bay, Trung Trang and Thien Long Caves; community tourism exploring the life of local people and fishermen at sea; and volunteer tourism.

With the direction of combining ecotourism development with environment and natural resources protection, the Cat Ba National Park has gradually achieved the goal of sustainable development and become an indispensable destination for domestic and international tourists./.