A group of environmentalists and activists are using a 360-degree video documentary to protect Son Doong, the world’s largest cave in Vietnam.
The documentary, made by HuffPost’s Ryot will be released in three parts, with the first two parts available to view on YouTube now and the third instalment due sometime in the next week. The new format allows visitors to explore a full 360-degree panoramic in the stunning cave while listening to local and international experts discuss the importance of protecting the site.
The team behind the Save Son Doong campaign spoke to Lonely Planet about their hopes for the documentary, saying they think “the international community should know about it so they can raise their voice to protect it. People should know about its tremendous scientific values. The 360 degrees will be a great ‘edutainment’ tool to show them Sơn Đoòng’s beauty and values.”
Experts say the greatest threat to the fragile environment – which was only discovered in 2009 – is the possible plan to build a cable car in it, bringing a large number of tourists into the world’s largest cave. While the local tourism authority did signal support for the plan in 2015, they have since said “the cable car project will only be implemented with approval from the Vietnamese prime minister, and with agreement from Unesco.” The Unesco World Heritage Committee has already expressed concerns about the project.
Despite these assurances, Ryot filmed a representative from a cable car company in March this year visiting the cave. Local activists are concerned this is evidence the plan is going ahead without the proper permissions.
Deb Limbert of the British Cave Association explains in the documentary why environmentalists fear large footfall in the cave. “The most beautiful parts, the most spectacular parts of Son Doong are in the dry sections of the cave”, she says.
“They are the most fragile parts and if mass tourism was allowed in there I don’t think they would survive huge numbers of people. We can’t send mass tourism in there at the risk of damaging some of the earth’s most fantastic places.”
Currently only a limited number of people can visit the cave via one tour operator and their 2017 tickets sold out within a day of them going on sale. The discovery of the cave has transformed the local village with the help of tourism, and campaigners said they want progress to continue but in a sustainable fashion.
“We advocate to turn this area into the first Vietnamese province that focuses on adventure ecotourism”, they told Lonely Planet. “The river is perfect for rafting, the park is awesome for biking and hiking. We also hope to promote the surrounding caves. Even in certain months, Quảng Bình Province can do cave-diving.”
Once the documentary is completely published, the campaigners hope to bring a travelling exhibition across Vietnam and possibly the USA to allow people to explore the world’s largest cave by virtual reality so they can meet the demands of those who want to see more, while alleviating the pressure of mass tourism on the area. In the meantime, they’re requesting supporters to sign their petition urging the government to stop with any plans to build the cable car.
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