Hạ Long Bay is home to 147 species of coral. Areas with high coral coverage of over 30 percent are located in Cống Đỏ - Trà Sản, Hang Trai - Đầu Bê with a total area of about 5,108 ha. Coral reefs are distributed mainly in Trà Sản, Soi Ván and Lưỡi Liềm areas.
In 1998, Hạ Long Bay still had some "good" and "very good" reefs (with coral cover reaching 51 percent or higher and 76 percent or higher, respectively). By 2013, it no longer had any reefs in the "very good" category. The situation deteriorated further in 2015 when a survey showed that coral cover in the best-maintained reefs was below 50 percent and the average rate in the Bay was just 20 percent.
The damage was blamed on the declining water quality and the emergence of Drupella snails that eat coral tissues. Both of which are considered the result of human activity including tourism, fishing, pollution, industrial and household wastewater. However, in recent times, with stringent management measures introduced, there have been signs of recovery. Some reefs have been discovered with coral cover as high as 60 to 70 percent. The flourishing of 'branching' corals has also been observed.
To save the coral reef ecosystems in the Bay, the Hạ Long Bay Management Board in the Northern Province of Quảng Ninh is carrying various measures to protect coral reef ecosystems in the area. The Management Board has surveyed and built a database of the ecosystems useful for implementing conservation solutions. In addition, it has also trained human resources specialising in the management and protection of the coral reef ecosystems. Patrols are regularly organised while violations in fishing and protection of aquatic resources are strictly handled.
Coral in Hạ Long Bay
The Management Board has regularly monitored and periodically supervised the conservation of coral reef ecosystems to promptly detect threats and carry out restoration measures. Along with zoning off and strictly preserving coral reefs with high coverage from 30 percent or more, it also erected warning signs and has stopped boats from operating as well as increasing the frequency of inspections.
Activities to protect the water environment of Hạ Long Bay have been enhanced to protect the habitat of coral reefs such as banning polluting acts or collecting floating waste, especially garbage at the foot of the islands where coral reefs are often distributed.
In 2019, Quảng Ninh Province issued a regulation on the Management of Hạ Long Bay, including a ban on fishing in the heritage area. This rule is of great significance for the conservation of coral reef ecosystems because fishing boats might cause environmental pollution, especially oil pollution, which is one of the main reasons for coral death.
The Hạ Long Bay Management Board, in collaboration with the Municipal People's Committee of Hạ Long City have been diligently working to repair the reefs. The Management Board regularly monitors and supervises conservation of the coral reef ecosystem to promptly detect threats and carry out restoration measures. They have surveyed and built a database of the ecosystem which has proven useful for implementing conservation measures. In addition, it has trained people in the management and protection of the coral reef ecosystems and related agencies have regularly launched dissemination campaigns and instructed vessels not to anchor on coral reefs and prevent fishing in prohibited areas.
Deputy Head of the Hạ Long Bay Management Board Phạm Đình Huỳnh said thanks to the adoption of synchronised solutions, the coral reefs of Hạ Long Bay are showing signs of recovery. The number of coral reefs with coverage of over 60 percent and branched corals are growing, he said.
Hạ Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Quảng Ninh Province, is one of Vietnam’s most popular travel destinations, receiving 14 million visitors in 2019. Hạ Long Bay literally “descending dragon” Bay, was twice recognised as a World Natural Heritage site by UNESCO in 1994 and 2000. The Bay spans 1,553 square kilometres and includes 1,969 islands of various sizes. It features thousands of limestone karsts and islets in various shapes and sizes. The limestone in the Bay has gone through 500 million years of formation in different conditions and environments. The geo-diversity of the environment has created biodiversity, including a tropical evergreen biosystem, oceanic and sea biosystem.
According to Deputy Chairman of the Provincial People’s Committee Cao Tường Huy, the Province has outlined ways to increase its sea-based economy, focusing on tourism, sea services and coastal industries that are environmentally friendly. With a vision of becoming an international tourism centre with uniformed infrastructure, a kaleidoscope of high-quality tourism products and a competitive edge over rivals in the region and the world, the Province has invested heavily in tourism and trade facilities, developing eco-tourism in a sustainable manner and forming high-end tourism sites in Hạ Long, Vân Đồn, Cô Tô, Hải Hà Móng Cái and Bái Tử Long.
The Province will prioritise turning Hạ Long into a modern tourism City while developing Vân Đồn - Cô Tô into an international entertainment centre. It is also studying how to develop new tourism products such as yachting, water taxis, seaplanes, hot air ballooning and scuba diving. Due attention will be paid to upgrading local fishing ports and anchorages, improving fisheries logistics in Cô Tô and Vân Đồn districts and forming three fishing centres in Cô Tô, Vân Đồn and Đầm Hà and two seafood trading centres in Hạ Long City.
(Source: Vietnam Environment Administration Magazine, English Edition III - 2021)