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. In November 2004, the Cat Ba Archipelago was approved as UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
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 almost 12000 people, living in 6 communes – of which Cat Ba Town with 7820 people is the largest.
The area has two ethnic groups, namely the Kinh and the Chinese-born Vietnamese that are intermingled and not separated into different areas or communities. Based on archaeological remains, it seems 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
Cat Ba National Park was established in 1986. At 85 square km the park covers more than half of the main island. Including some smaller islands the park currently comprises 98 square km of total land area. An additional 54 square km of inshore waters also belong to the national park. Cat Ba National Park was Vietnam’s first national park to include both terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
It is recognized nationally and internationally for its importance to biodiversity conservation. This is not only because the island 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 Golden-headed Langur, are now rare and endangered. In Vietnam’s Biodiversity Action Plan, Cat Ba National Park is listed in the highest category regarding its value for biodiversity conservation