While it should be accepted without doubt that Son Doong Cave, the world’s largest cave, in the north-central Vietnamese province of Quang Binh, should remain untouched, a local expert recommends that nearby caverns also be afforded the same protections.
According to Assoc. Prof. Ta Hoa Phuong, a cable car system should never be planned, let alone actually constructed, inside either Son Doong or any other nearby grottos, within the UNESCO-recognized Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.
Son Doong was found by a group of explorers from the British Cave Research Association in 2009,according to National Geographic News.
In July 2017, Phuong, chairman of the Vietnam Paleontology and Stratigraphy Association, petitioned Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to scrap plans for a cable car system in En Cave (Swallow Cave) or anywhere else within the park’s caverns.
En Cave was named for the thousands of swallows in Phong Nha-Ke Bang that take shelter in the cavern.
Though the specific project Phuong is campaigning against is meant for En Cave, he says it could potentially leave the same impact as one built inside Son Doong Cave.
In late January, Phuong reiterated his view after local company FLC Group reportedly began a field survey inside En Cave.
En Cave hurt means Son Doong hurt
FLC’s plan for the cable car system was originally stymied by rumors that the project was meant for Son Doong Cave; however the company was quick to rebuff the allegations, asserting that the project would be carried out in En Cave.
Le Thanh Tinh, director of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang management board, also confirmed that no such project was planned for Son Doong, which he said is “not suitable for mass tourism.”
Tinh asserted FLC began conducting field tests for a cable car system inside En Cave in late 2016 and submitted its construction plan to Quang Binh authorities early the following year.
The proposal included a 5.1km car system from Ho Chi Minh Highway to the cave’s entrance.
In August 2017, PM Phuc gave in-principle approval to the project following a meeting with Quang Binh authorities.
The premier, however, underlined that the project must not affect the national park’s heritage and the developer would be required to seek consultation from UNESCO.
|Camping inside En Cave. Photo: Luk Ban La|
Commenting on this plan, Phuong said it should be rejected, given the fact that En Cave is located only 3.5km from the entrance of Son Doong.
While cable cars are both a popular and profitable means of tourism, the professor stressed that few countries would even consider it for such huge and marvelous caves like En or Son Doong.
“Construction of the cable car system poses an imminent risk to the critically vulnerable ecosystem that helped create those spectacular caves,” he said.
He said the current trekking and exploring package permitted for Son Doong and En Cave is already the best solution as it has an economic upside while still minimizing human impact on the local cave system.
|Inside Son Doong Cave. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
In July last year, the UNESCO, the World Heritage Committee and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) held a convention for the protection of the world's cultural and natural heritage sites in Krakow, Poland.
At the convention, the IUCN suggested that UNESCO recommend the Vietnamese government to void all plans to develop cable car systems inside Son Doong in order to prevent any potential impact that such projects may cause to the site.
However, the recommendation was not included in the final decision adopted at the meeting.
Nguyen Viet Cuong, head of the relic management bureau under Vietnam’s Cultural Heritage Agency, said that because Vietnam has no plans to build a cable car system inside Son Doong “it was eventually agreed that the [IUCN and UNESCO] suggestion be omitted from the convention’s decision.”