Vietnam park draws flak for tourism ban

Thanh Nien News

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Con Dao National Park recently banned boats from visiting many of its islets in a decision that attracted criticism from both tourism firms and local authorities.
Many tourists come to Con Dao (a string of 14 islands some 80 km off the southern coast of Vietnam) specifically to visit sea turtle nesting sites, dive near coral reefs and visit mangrove forests in and around the islands.
A number of tourism companies reported being surprised by park officials on Con Son – Con Dao’s largest islet– who prevented them from taking tourists to the small islets.
The park authority attributed the ban to the fact that Ba Ria Vung Tau Province, which manages the tourism-haven island, has not issued a waterway transport plan in and around the islands, Phap Luat Thanh pho Ho Chi Minh (Ho Chi Minh City Law) newspaper reported.
Con Dao Resort said the ban has hurt their business.
“Since the beginning of 2014, the company has spent a great deal of money to promote Con Dao tours on television, in magazines and through international tourism agencies in the US, UK, France, Japan, etc. which have specifically advertised a tour of the island's sea turtle nesting sites,” a company representative said.
“The sudden halt will do great damage to our company’s reputation. We may also have to compensate tourists who have already booked these tours,” he said, adding that the company has complained to the Ba Ria Vung Tau Tourism Association.
On May 12, the park authority sent a letter to Con Dao District People’s Committee – the island authority – to inform them of the ban.
The park will maintain the temporary ban in the area under its management until relevant authorities issue the required waterway map, it said.
Vietnam's central government established Con Dao National Park in 1993 . It is directly managed by the Ba Ria Vung Tau Province People's Committee.
Con Dao District then protested the ban to provincial authorities.
Ho Van Nien, deputy chairman of Ba Ria Vung Tau Province People’s Committee, said his agency has instructed the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism to work with the park authorities to resolve the issue.
The committee should clarify if the park has the authority to ban boats and canoes from visiting Con Dao, he said.
Nguyen Kim Hoan of the provincial transport department said his agency never told the park authorities to ban boat traffic.
Although they have yet to submit an official plan for the island’s waterway transportation [issued by the province], the Con Dao District authorities are responsible for managing the issue.
“We only advised the national park to ensure waterway safety in Con Dao. We did not tell them to ban boats,” he said.
“My department is drafting the island’s waterway transport plan,” he added.
In April, the Ramsar Convention Secretariat (a body dedicated to the conservation of nature) recognized Con Dao National Park as an international wetland area and Vietnam’s first maritime Ramsar site.
The island area, which became the sixth Ramsar site in Vietnam, is a critical habitat for many sea creatures, including sea turtles, dolphins and dugongs.
The park has recorded 144 resident species, including 28 mammals, 69 birds, 39 reptiles and eight amphibians.
The water around Con Dao is the habitat of 1,321 recorded species of flora and fauna , many of which are listed as endangered. The beaches there are also the breeding grounds of several sea turtle species.
In 1995, the World Bank listed Con Dao National Park in its Global Representative System of Marine Protected Areas. It is also included in Vietnam’s biodiversity conservation plan.

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