Aside from its transportation system, the project will also include three golf courses, an amusement park, and several components to leverage the tourism potential of local areas such as Qua Vang Cave, Lan Ha Bay, Viet Hai Village, and Cat Ong Island.
In that context, local conservationists are concerned that the Cat Ba langur species, the most endangered species in Vietnam, will face multiple threats.
Development and environment should be balanced
I have worked in wildlife, environmental, and cultural conservation in several places in the U.S., Canada, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Indonesia before Vietnam. This is the first time I have personally worked in a biosphere reserve, but I have worked in national parks, conservation areas, national forests, and similar protected areas. Threats to all sorts of protected areas, biosphere reserves included, are common worldwide. In developing countries, those threats are often greater as there is more pressure to develop the economic and tourism aspects rapidly without considering the long-term (or even short-term) environmental costs.
In my opinion, we need a balance. Tourism and economic development are inevitable and, if carefully planned and implemented, can be of enormous benefit to a region, the people there, and the conservation taking place. There should never be an exchange of one for the other though.
To achieve a balance, there needs to be a lengthy and deliberate planning process that includes conservation experts. This needs to take place early in the planning stages so as to provide the best opportunity to negotiate mutually satisfying solutions that meet both the conservation needs and the realities of development.
This is not an easy process and it takes a long time, so many people don’t want to do it, instead rushing their plans out without consulting the conservation experts, or only consulting people who will rubber-stamp anything the development company desires. When this happens, it creates a situation where conflict is nearly inevitable, which is a shame because this resulting conflict is completely unnecessary and can be avoided by having an open and inclusive planning process.
Everything has an impact
The Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project (CBLCP) started out in November 2000 following a survey of the langurs conducted in 1999 that found the population of langurs under serious threat of extinction. The Allwetterzoo in Münster along with ZGAP was in a position to fund a conservation project on Cat Ba aimed at preventing the extinction of the langur and preserving the rest of the biodiversity of the area. From the very beginning, the mandate of the project has not been solely to protect the langur, but to protect the biodiversity of the entire Cat Ba archipelago and has had “the aim of reducing the impact on natural resources inside the Cat Ba archipelago and improving integration of conservation and environmental protection in the local development agenda.”
We, and other conservation organizations, are very concerned about the impacts of such a large set of development projects and the associated massive increase in visitors to the island. There is no such thing as a “no impact” project, everything and everyone has an impact on the environment and the species that find their homes in that environment. The question is what that impact is and what the magnitude of that impact is, as well as how big of an effect it will have.
For the langur specifically, as long as there is no infrastructure development in their home areas, the impact is likely to be primarily one of disturbance due to increased human activity; more people close to them, more noise, more lights at night, increased danger of human – langur contact (which is a big concern due to the potential of diseases entering the langur population), etc. To many, these may seem like minor impacts, but studies repeatedly show that these sorts of disturbances have large negative impacts on many primates.
On the whole, due to the awareness of the langur itself, there will probably be a decent amount of protection for the langur itself, but the risk of serious disturbance is still very high.
The real question is about the impact on the rest of the biodiversity and the ecology of Cat Ba Island, the surrounding island, and the waters. The langur is not the only endangered or endemic species here. There are 3,860 species here with at least 21 species endemic to the greater Ha Long/Cat Ba area, 102 species of plants and animals endangered or critically endangered in the area, and 130 species included in the Red Lists of Vietnam and IUCN.
We need to pay attention to the entire picture, not just a single species, especially as each species exists in a habitat and cannot survive without that habitat.
Given that we do not have access to any of the detailed development plans, we can’t make a realistic assessment of the potential impacts of the development plans. We need to see the plans before we can provide useful input. Without seeing the plans, it is natural to assume the worst, but we simply lack the information to make a proper, detailed assessment of the impacts.