Museums in Sustainable Development / Ha Long Ecomuseum

Amareswar Galla

Convener, Pacific Asia Observatory for Cultural Diversity in Human Development international Technical Adviser, Ha Long Ecomuseum professor of Museum Studies, the University of Queensland.

Museums in Sustainable Development / Ha Long Ecomuseum

The role of museums as civic spaces for intercultural dialogue and sustainable heritage development has been debated and developed through several local, national and international gatherings. Major meetings of ICOM and the World Commission for Culture and Development, both held in Manila in mid 1990s called for an integrated approach to culture and nature in dealing with movable and immovable, tangible and intangible heritage. The Tshwane Declaration of 1997, a standard setting document for tourism development of heritage resources of significance in post-apartheid South Africa, provides a meaningful framework for museums and community engagement in sustainable development. Such diversity of community, governmental and professional advocacy inform the inclusiveness as embedded in the current Strategic Plan of ICOM (

In 1999, UNESCO Hanoi Office and the Ha Long Bay Management Department came together to address the challenges of reconciling two non-negotiable principles. Conservation is non-negotiable. Community development is non-negotiable. The way forward had to be explored. The methodology that was developed bringing the two principles together is sustainable heritage development. This is the beginning of an on-going project without an end, like all living and organic projects, the Ha Long Ecomuseum, which informs over a dozen demonstration projects including the Cua Van Floating Cultural Centre, the world''s first museum on the sea.

In October 2006 the Prime Minister of Vietnam was so impressed by the capacity and proven results of the sustainable heritage development method that he inscribed the Ha Long Ecomuseum on the list of National Museums of Vietnam. It is perhaps the first Ecomuseum in the world to be recognised legally as a national museum. The operationalisation of the Ha Long Ecomuseum as a national museum began in 2008. The full presentation of this project will provide an analysis of the project, its origins, the journey so far, and the preferred future. It is based on a recent review in August and the establishment of a renewed Ecomuseum team in Ha Long bay.

Ha Long Bay is part of the Province of Quang Ninh and is located in the north-eastern corner of Viet Nam. The Bay contains a large archipelago of spectacular ''karst'' landscape that has been invaded by the sea at the end of the last ice age, leaving 1,969 tall pillars of rock and rugged islands with many caves and unusual features. It is an area of superlative natural beauty, but also a treasure-house of unusual, and often unique, geomorphic features, ecosystems and biodiversity. There are many sites of historical significance and archaeological remains in and around the bay and, in addition, it is strongly represented in the myths and legends of the Vietnamese people. The natural features and the enormously complicated interaction between them and the climatic, hydrological and human influences upon them are, as yet, little researched and therefore largely unexplained.

The Vietnamese government, recognizing its importance to Viet Nam as a whole, made Ha Long Bay a National Protection Area in 1962. In 1994, it was inscribed on the World Heritage List for its outstanding natural beauty, thus making Viet Nam formally responsible for its care and preservation on behalf of the people of the world. In 2000 it was further inscribed for its unique geological and geomorphic characteristics. However, its significance as one of the few places on earth with substantive archaeological evidence illustrating the transition from the last ice age to the current warm period is yet to be adequately recognised. There are lessons to be learnt for the current challenges of climate change and rising sea levels.

Ha Long Bay, Ha Long City and the part of Quang Ninh Province which surrounds it is an area of rapid economic and urban growth. Quang Ninh, which has a population of just over a million, together with Hai Phong and Ha Noi, forms a large triangular area of dense population and economic activity which is developing rapidly. The main
Coal mining area of Viet Nam with reserves exceeding 8 billion tons lies immediately beside the Bay and large amounts of limestone, kaolin, clay and sand are extracted to supply an important construction material industry. Large merchant ships cross the Bay en route to the two large ports of Hai Phong and Cai Lan. These and five other smaller ports, cater for an export trade, which is projected to more than quadruple in the next decade. The Bay itself supports a valuable fishing and seafood industry and attracts large numbers of tourists.

The number of visitors from 1994 to 2007 has grown from 120,000 to nearly 2.1 million. If this rate of growth is sustained, Ha Long Bay will attract in excess of 3 million domestic and foreign tourists per annum by the year 2020. The continuing reconstruction of the Vietnamese economy in line with the doi moi reform process launched in 1986 and designed to lead the country towards a more market orientated economy is already proving to be successful in improving the well-being of the people of Viet Nam. Many new factories, industrial zones and export processing zones have begun operating in recent years. As participation by private industry is expanding further and markets are becoming more open, expanding commercial activity in the Ha Long area is placing further pressure on the Bay's fragile environment and ecosystems.

Increasing commercial activity and restructuring, urbanization and greater levels of disposable income for a growing number of people have led to a rise in social problems and placed pressure on the culture and values of the population of Ha Long City and its surrounding area. Wider exposure to international markets has brought about fluctuations and changes in local employment and widened the gap between those who have benefited and those unable to take advantage of the new opportunities. Mindful of the danger of unrestrained and un-coordinated development, the Management Department of Ha Long Bay and the Quang Ninh People's Committee have jointly developed a ''Master Plan for the Development of Ha Long Bay to the Year 2020''. It provides a coordinated planning framework to manage the development that could affect the Bay. Nevertheless, at the present time and for the foreseeable future, many of the foregoing activities conflict with efforts to manage the sustainable development of the marine resources and Outstanding Universal Values of Ha Long Bay as a World Heritage Area. Clearly identifiable examples of direct conflicts are the increasing numbers of tourists and the corresponding demand for wider access to caves and grottoes, expansion of commercial shipping and tourist vessels, fishing by using illegal methods and coal mining. Such activities, as they are currently managed, are incompatible with the conservation of the Bay''s environment, biodiversity and landscape values.

A framework of legislation has been put in place by the Vietnamese Government and the Quang Ninh Provincial People''s Committee to regulate activities on the Bay. It lays down environmental conditions for the operation of industrial activities within Ha Long Bay and sets safety and hygiene standards for tourist and transport activities. Working closely with Ha Long City and other nearby local authorities, the local management is actively pursuing measures to control and reduce the environmental threat of water and atmospheric pollution of the Bay from solid, liquid and gaseous waste products.

The most important intervention made by the local community stakeholder groups is the reclamation of the control of their heritage values through the Ha Long Ecomuseum project which brings people and their heritage together. While the external heritage model brings in a dichotomy between the natural and cultural, validating the natural for the recognition of World Heritage values, the local self-empowerment process through the Ecomuseum has been able to mainstream a postcolonial and local holistic approach to the total environment, challenging the imposition of an externality on local values.

The Ecomuseum concept views the entire Bay and its hinterland as a living museum and employs an ''interpretive'' approach to its management. Interpretive management sees the components and processes of the Bay and its hinterland of Quang Ninh Province as continuously interacting with each other in a constantly changing equilibrium. By intensive research and monitoring, local heritage workers seek to ''interpret'' what is happening to that equilibrium and to make carefully planned interventions to change the balance of the components when necessary. An important feature of this approach is that it views human activity, past and present, as fundamental components of the total environmental resource. The culture, history, traditions and activities of the human population on and around the Bay are as much a part of the heritage as the caves and plants on the islands and are in continuous interaction with it.

The Ecomuseum assumes that all human and natural ecosystems are living, developing organisms that cannot be ''preserved'' in a particular isolated state and that human and natural ecosystems are interdependent. The ultimate goal of conservation is the sustainable development of Ha Long Bay. The recognition as a National Museum provides the critical impetus needed. Moreover, as a national demonstration project it is resulting in multiplier effects in not only Vietnam, but also Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines, South Korea, China, and Australia.

Summary based on: Galla. A. ''Museums and Community Development'', Asian Museum Directors and Anthropologists Forum, Kunming, 2006, Yunnan Education Publishing House, pp.17-31; Galla. A. ''Cultural Diversity in Ecomuseum Development in Viet Nam'', Museum International, (No. 227), Vol. 57, No. 3, 2005, pp.101-109; Galla. A. ''Culture and Heritage in Development: Ha Long Ecomuseum, a case study from Vietnam'', Humanities Research, 2002, Vol. IX, No. 1. pp. 63-76.


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