This past November, I had the opportunity to visit Ha Long Bay, in Vietnam. In 1994, UNESCO designated Ha Long Bay as a World Heritage site, under criteria vii and viii. These criteria apply to sites that
“contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance”
and that are
“outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features.”
In 2000 and 2023, UNESCO significantly increased the boundaries of the designated Ha Long Bay World Heritage area. Being a World Heritage site comes with advantages and disadvantages. Among the advantages to receiving UNESCO World Heritage recognition are that the state party can receive funds for conservation, and support from conservation organizations due to increased attention to the site. States parties are obligated to present UNESCO with “details of how a property is protected and provides a management plan for its upkeep” and are “expected to protect the World Heritage values of the properties inscribed.” States parties are also encouraged to continue reporting on the status of the designated site.
In the case of Ha Long Bay, human effects, most notably plastic pollution, are a definite concern. Single-use plastics have been banned on the many tourist boats that visit the bay. However, I can attest to the fact that plastic pollution is very much an ongoing issue. At one point on my overnight stay, I was able to visit one of the many karst formations that give the bay its unique look, and spend a bit of time on a lovely beach…that would have been even lovelier if the leftover plastic containers and bottles that dotted it had not been there.
Despite the plastic refuse, Ha Long Bay is one of the most incredible places I have had the privilege of visiting. Having the opportunity to see Ha Long Bay in person has renewed my interest in environmental protections and, since my trip to Vietnam, I have sought out additional ways I can make a positive impact on the environment.
Have you visited a place that left you moved and inspired by its natural beauty? Or have you been to a UNESCO World Heritage area? Let us know in the comments.
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