Dr Duong Bich Hanh, chief cultural expert at the UNESCO office in Hanoi, said the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) made the request after a field mission in September to advise UNESCO on whether to continue recognizing the park as a world heritage site.
On October 22, the government of Quang Binh Province held a press conference to announce its plan to build a US$212-million cable car system inside Son Doong Cave, which contains at least 150 individual grottos, a dense subterranean jungle, and several underground rivers.
The province had tapped the Sun Group, a real estate and resort developer in Danang to survey the Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park, where Son Doong is located, before installing the system.
The two-section 10.6 km route begins in Tien Son Cave and ends inside the rear opening of Son Doong.
The initial design suggests 30 intermediary support towers will be built to support the cable.
Each tower will occupy around 10 square meters and feature a 360-degree camera that will help alert park staff of forest fires or other threats.
The IUCN has warned that the project could potentially affect the park’s status as a world heritage site and has requested a thorough description of the cable car development project as well an environmental impact assessment.
Hanh said the UN agency has yet to announce its verdict on the project as the province and its investors are still in the planning stages.
She said after the province submits its proposal, UNESCO will send experts to conduct further field research on how the project might impact the park.
“Based on that, UNESCO will recommend whetherVietnam should or should not carry out the project.”
During the press conference on November 4, Nguyen Huu Hoai, Quang Binh’s chairman, said that if the central government and UNESCO don’t endorse the cable car system, they won’t proceed with the plan.
Hoai called the conference to dispel environmental concerns about the proposed project.
He said the project will be carefully planned and won’t affect any caves, while also creating a breakthrough in the province’s tourism, thousands of jobs for locals, and turn help Quang Binh escape poverty.
Tourism arrivals to Quang Binh spiked significantly in the past year — rising to a rate equal to or higher than established tourist staples like Hue or Da Nang, thanks to global attention to its cave systems.
Son Doong and a related network of stunning 400 million year old caves in Phong Nha-Ke Bang were discovered by a local man named Ho Khanh, but they did not gain international recognition until the British Cave Research Association explored them years ago with Khanh’s help.
More than 59,000 people from all over the world have signed for a petition against the cable car project.
“Let’s join hands to protect Son Doong, the world’s largest cave and a part of the UNESCO world heritage Phong Nha-Ke Bang in Quang Binh Province, Vietnam,” said Bao Nguyen, the petitions author.