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Quang Binh Says No to Controversial Son Doong Cable Car Project

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park might be safe from invasive development projects, at least for the time being.

On Tuesday afternoon, April 9, the Quang Binh People’s Committee collaborated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to organize a press conference to present the results of exploratory efforts in Son Doong Cave that took place late last month. The deep dive didn’t yield expected results, but a statement by Vice Chairman of Quang Binh People’s Committee Tran Tien Dung has drawn the attention of environmentalists in Vietnam.

When queried about the notorious past plan to put a cable car in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park near the opening of Son Doong, Dung declared that the province “doesn’t approve proposals by developers to construct the cable car.”

Back in late 2017 and the first half of 2018, news broke that feasibility studies were being carried out regarding a cable car in the national park linking to Son Doong. However, communication between parties was poor at best, with provincial officials denying and then confirming the possibility of the cable car project several months later.

At the recent press event, Dung added that the cable car is just an idea put forth by some developers doing the feasibility survey and that “in reality, project construction is non-existent,” according to Tuoi Tre.

“This is the core area of Phong Nha-Ke Bang so we will observe utmost caution regarding any intervention in the area,” he told reporters at the conference in Vietnamese. “In principle, you can’t construct anything in core areas of a national park.”

British diver Jason Mallinson speaking at the press conference. Photo via Japan Times.

During the press conference, a team of British divers also presented their findings after several exploratory trips in the area and in the cave. Of the efforts, the most prominent was a deep dive on March 30 into Son Doong’s underwater passage to determine if the cave is linked to the nearby Thung Cave. The latter was discovered in 1994 and also features an underwater passage.

“When we discovered Son Doong Cave in 2009 and completed its survey in 2010, we realized that the final end of the river in the cave was just 600 meters in a straight line from the end of Thung Cave,” Howard Limbert, a member of the British Cave Research Association who’s currently the technical director of Oxalis, a local tour agency providing Son Doong adventures, told Tuoi Tre in an interview last year.

Oxalis started organizing the dive last year and invited divers Rick Stanton, John Volanthen, Jason Mallinson and Chris Jewell to help scour the submerged path. They were all heavily involved in the historic rescue of the 12 Thai boys and their coach who were trapped in Tham Luang Cave in Thailand last July. Eventually, Volanthen couldn’t join, but the other three recently wrapped up their Quang Binh visit.

The position of the dive inside Son Doong. Graphic via Tuoi Tre.

According to the divers, preliminary measurements estimated the depth of the submerged passage in Son Doong to be 93 meters. They were hoping that somewhere along the way down, there would be an opening and a horizontal path connecting Son Doong with the Thung Cave. However, when Mallinson reached 77 meters, he had to resurface due to lack of oxygen.

Had the team managed to uncover a link between the two caves, it could have been a historic discovery. At the moment, Son Doong is the largest cave in the world in size, but not in volume, a record held by Malaysia’s Clearwater Cave System (39.5 million cubic meters). If Son Doong and Thung caves are indeed interconnected, this will make the cave system the largest in the world at 40.4 million cubic meters, according to Limbert.

Nevertheless, the divers plan to return to the cave next year for another trip, this time perhaps with helium-added scuba tanks capable of taking them down 120–200 meters.

[Top photo via sondoongcave.info]


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