Cat Ba Island is situated in Ha Long Bay, 50 km to the east of Hai Phong City, in Northern Vietnam. It is the largest of 366 islands in the Cat Ba Archipelago, and has a surface area of about 140 square km. The Cat Ba Archipelago shares the distinctive rugged appearance and scenic beauty of the Ha Long Bay Area that was declared a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, in 1994.
The area is one of the best examples in the world of a Karst landscape invaded by the sea. Some 1500-2000 large and small islands and cliffs rise steeply from the shallow marine waters. Many of these islands reach towering heights of 50 to 100m with sheer vertical cliffs on all sides. Spectacular rock relief and bizarre rock formations provide evidence of a long history of erosion and landscape evolution through the sculpturing power of water.
The greatest part of the islands’ mountain range like most of the smaller offshore islands of the Archipelago, are covered by tropical moist limestone forest. Cat Ba Island also has coral terraces, sandy beaches, freshwater wetland areas, tidal flats, mangrove forests and willow swamp. Spectacular scenery and a high diversity of landscapes make Cat Ba a special place and it has become a main destination for national and international tourists.
Cat Ba Island is currently inhabited by about 13500 people, living in 6 communes, of which Cat Ba Town is the largest. Archaeological remains suggest that people have inhabited the Cat Ba area for at least 6000 years. Local livelihoods in the villages are built on subsistence agriculture and fishing. Comparatively new sources of employment and income at the local level are shrimp and fish-farming, and tourism.
The National Park and Biodiversity Conservation
Cat Ba National Park was established in 1986. After a re-arrangement of the park boundaries in 2006, the park now comprises of 109 square km of land area and an additional 52 square km of inshore waters and mangrove covered tidal zones. Cat Ba National Park was Vietnam’s first national park to include both terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
Cat Ba Island, its national park and the surrounding area are nationally and internationally recognized for their importance to biodiversity conservation, exemplified through the recognition of the Cat Ba Archipelago as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve, in 2004.This is not only because the area has a high number of different ecosystem and habitat types, but also because it possesses a great variety of plant and animal species, many of which, like the Cat Ba langur, are now rare and endangered.
About 1400 vascular plants, including 23 Endangered and Critically Endangered species (Red Data Book of Vietnam; IUCN Red List) have so far been recorded. Large and partly endangered mammals include the Cat Ba langur, the Southern Serow (Naemorhaedus sumatraensis), Rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta), Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), black giant squirrel (Ratufa bicolor), and civet cats (Viverricula indica, Paradoxurus hermaphroditus).
The cave, land snail and butterfly fauna is rich including the most northerly cave-adapted crab species, plus four species of true cave snails. The region is considered a hotspot for land snail diversity and might also be conserving a considerable number of bat species including rare ones.
In 2007 a reptile survey was conducted in Cat Ba National Park by Dr. Thomas Ziegler, from Cologne Zoo and Nguyen Quang Truong, from the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, in cooperation with the Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project. It led to the discovery of the Cat Ba Tiger Gecko (Goniurosaurus catbaensis), endemic to Cat Ba Island, adding to the list of endemic and rare species and once more emphasizing the need for nature conservation on the island.