The 11 sites in Korea designated as Ramsar Wetlands are a true blessing of nature, with each area having its own ecological character and value. According to wetland specialists, the most environmentally significant areas include: the High Moor, Yongneup of Mt. Daeamsan, where legend says that a dragon (yong) rested there on its way to heaven; Jangdo Island High Moor, which provides a real-life example of the value of wetlands as a water resource; Suncheon Bay, a favorite rest area of various migratory birds such as the hooded crane; and Ganghwa Maehwamarum Habitat, Korea’s first rice paddy wetlands to be protected.
The High Moor, Yongneup of Mt. Daeamsan
The High Moor, Yongneup of Mt. Daeamsan, the first site in Korea to be registered as a Ramsar Wetlands, is a high moor located near the summit of Mt. Daeamsan. Situated within the demilitarized zone (DMZ), which separates North and South Korea, the area is remotely located and not readily accessible by the general public. The climate of Mt. Daeamsan (1,304 meters) is cool and foggy, with temperatures of below 0°C for five months of the year and foggy conditions for about half the year. So, the water that gathers in its summit basin does not easily evaporate, thereby creating a wetlands area. It is estimated that Yongneup was formed some 4,500 to 5,000 years ago. The site includes Big Yongneup (1,180-1,200 meters) and Little Yongneup (1,240-1,260 meters), which cover a combined area of about 57,000 square meters.
Yongneup, the first acidic moor discovered in Korea, attracted international attention in the early 1970s, when it was the subject of a joint ecological survey conducted by a team of Korean and international scholars, of selected sites within the DMZ. Due to its environmental value, the site has been designated a natural monument, as well as an ecological and tourism area and a nature preserve. In an acidic moor, dead plants will decompose at a slower rate than normal, forming a spongy layer of peat, which becomes acidic when combined with water. When the moor was discovered, its peat layer had reached a thickness of about 150 centimeters. Yongneup’s water, gathered from the rain, snow, fog, and frost, eventually makes its way into underground streams and mountain streams that flow down the slopes to the villages below, providing a steady supply of water year-round.
Insect-eating plants, such as the round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) and the yellowish-white bladderwort (Utricularia ochroleuca) thrive in the high moor of Yongneup. These mountain wetland plants supplement the scarce nutrients of the acidic soil as a result of their consumption of insect life. Of note, the Trientalis europaea var. arctica, bog bean (Menyanthes trifoliate), and long-tailed goral (Naemorhedus caudatus) are endangered species that can only be found in the high moor wetlands of Korea. Also, 12 species previously unknown in Korea, such as the Grapholita dimorpha moth, have been discovered, another indicator of the high moor’s ability to promote ecological diversity.
Unfortunately, the area was the site of fierce fighting during the Korean War, and later had been used by the military as a training ground, at a time when there was little appreciation for the ecological value of wetland areas. Moreover, although entry to the site is regulated, as a conservation measure, local residents are known to intrude into the area for gathering mountain greens.
Jangdo Island High Moor
A wetlands area is a unique habitat that is home to aquatic plants and other species that can adapt to the wet ground. Wetlands are valued for their natural capability to provide effective filtration and purification of water. The Jangdo Island High Moor, of Sinan, Jeollanam-do Province, is a peatlands found at the summit of an island mountain, where its reservoir catches rainwater, which gradually permeates into the ground. The water flows down to the villages at the base of the mountain, where it is suitable for drinking. The local residents thus have firsthand knowledge about the importance of wetlands as a water resource.
Jangdo Island High Moor is situated on a small island within Dadohae Maritime National Park, which comprises a number of islands located off the southwest coast of the Korean Peninsula. The small islands in the area are known for their dramatic cliff formations, but Jangdo Island is the most impressive, because of the Jangdo Island High Moor, located near the summit of a 267-meter-high mountain, which supports a wide variety of living things.
Although the entire island’s surface is lined with solid granite, water collects in the bowl-shaped summit and the plant life decomposes very slowly, which over time accumulates to form a peatlands. The soil, which contains a high organic content, is highly absorbent and can filter out impurities from the water that eventually flows down to the villagers below, where is it clean enough to be used as drinking water. For this reason, Jangdo Island High Moor is being studied for its natural ability to supply clean water.
Jangdo Island High Moor is a paradise for a variety of predatory birds, such as the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), Oriental honey buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus), Japanese sparrowhawk (Accipiter gularis), Eurasian hobby (Falco subbuteo), and Amur falcon (Falco amurensis), as well as the Japanese wood pigeon (Columba janthina), a type of pigeon only found in island regions. Local plants, such as Impatiens koreana, Korean snow (Hosta yingeri), and Rosa kokusanensis reside here, along with the wind orchid (Neofinetia falcate), which has been categorized as a first-class endangered species, and the light-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus sinensis), a tropical bird, thus attesting to the area’s noteworthy biological diversity.
The Suncheon Bay Protected Area, together with the Boseong Beolgyo Tidal Flats Protected Area, form the Ramsar Wetlands site registered as Suncheon Bay. The landscape scenery of Suncheon Bay is notably diverse, with tracts of reed thickets interspersed with red Suaeda japonicus, forming patterns like an engraved seal, while the tidal flats show off their darkened skin. During winter, numerous migratory birds, including the hooded crane, can be seen taking flight above the reed fields of the ocean basin that penetrates deeply into the land. Accordingly, Suncheon Bay has come to be known as a “reed paradise” and “hometown of the hooded crane.”
The vibrant scenery of Suncheon Bay can be attributed to a harmonious melding of natural influences. In particular, Dongcheon Stream and Isacheon Stream steadily empty their waters into the bay, providing a constant source of fresh water for the tidal flats and diluting the sea water’s salt content, thus allowing freshwater reeds and the saltwater Suaeda japonicus to coexist there. This brackish condition has enabled the area to become an estuary salt marsh. Most of the estuaries in Korea are blocked off by dams or irrigation reservoirs for agricultural purposes, so Suncheon Bay is indeed a rarity that makes it all the more meaningful and valuable.
In addition to the intertidal salt marsh areas and reed tracts, Suncheon Bay offers much to see and enjoy, such as the Suncheon Bay Ecology Hall, Suncheon Bay Astronomical Observatory, migratory bird-watching via CCTV, reed field pathway, Yongsan Observatory, and Tidal Flats Observatory, thanks to efforts to develop the site as an ecotourism destination. Multifaceted measures to promote environmental sustainability are being implemented as well, including the use of tour buses and bicycles, in order to curtail the volume of vehicle traffic around Suncheon Bay.
Some 220 species of birds can be seen at Suncheon Bay, of which 35 species are endangered, including the hooded crane (Grus monacha), common crane (Grus grus), oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), saunder’s gull (Larus saundersi), black-faced spoonbill (Platalea minor), common spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), Chinese egret (Egretta eulophotes), Oriental stork (Ciconia boyciana), spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus), spotted greenshank (Tringa guttifer), Baikal teal (Anas Formosa), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), whooper swan (Cygnus Cygnus), bean goose (Anser fabalis), hen harrier (Circus cyaneus), common buzzard (Buteo buteo), and white-naped crane (Grus vipio).
Boseong Beolgyo Tidal Flats, across the way from Suncheon Bay, is Korea’s primary grounds for the Malaysian cockle (Tegillarca granosa) and mudskipper (Boleophthalmus pectinirostris), which can bring tidy profits to local fishermen. Shellfish such as the jackknife clam (Solen strictus) and Asian clam (Corbicula fluminea) also add to the economic value of these tidal flats. The tidal flats are valuable coastal wetlands in terms of their ecological significance, in providing a stable habitat for a variety of waterborne creatures, and its cultural contributions, including the tidal flat boats and various elements spawned by the wetlands culture here.
Rice paddies are a kind of man-made wetlands, which are integral to an ecosystem and natural habitat of their own. Accordingly, rice paddy areas are now eligible for registration as Ramsar Wetlands. Of particular note, Korea’s Ganghwa Maehwamarum Habitat became the world’s first-ever rice paddy to be formally designated a Ramsar Wetlands. This resulted from the 10th Ramsar Conference, when the environmental value of the rice paddies in Asia’s monsoonal regions was recognized for their ability to support ecological diversity. The measures to conserve rice paddy wetlands have led to such efforts as surveys of the plants and animals that populate rice paddies and studies to identify representative species.
For example, Japan has identified some 5,000 species that rely on rice paddies for their survival, which has contributed to the promotion of more environment-friendly farming methods, known as biological diversity agriculture. Korea is assessing anew the importance of rice paddies as habitats for endangered species and adopting measures for their preservation. A representative case involves Korea’s Maehwamarum (Korean water crowfoot; Ranunculus kazusensis). After being thought to be extinct, growths of Maehwamarum were discovered in the rice paddies of Ganghwado Island. And because the lands there were slated for redistribution and eventual development, the National Trust intervened and acquired the site. Although the rice paddy site covers a relatively small area, it has been registered as a Ramsar Wetlands to assure its continuous protection. The National Trust, which is primarily funded by public contributions, strives to preserve environmentally significant land areas through the acquisition of selected sites, which would otherwise be lost to commercial development.
The Ganghwa Maehwamarum Habitat and nearby areas have adopted organic farming practices in an effort to promote the Maehwamarum’s survival, while the locally grown rice is marketed as “Maehwamarum Rice,” which adds to the revenue of the area’s farmers. The area has also gained considerable popularity as an ecological and historical attraction for visitors, which includes a trail for observing the Maehwamarum, an education center, nearby tidal flats, and historic sites.
Aside from the Maehwamarum, other endangered species that inhabit the rice paddy and surrounding areas include the black-faced spoonbill, Chinese egret, gold-spotted pond frog (Rana plancyi chosenica), boreal digging frog (Kaloula borealis), and Korean ratsnake (Elaphe schrenckii). When organic farming is applied to rice paddies, the areas can be home to over 100 species of aquatic plants, such as the river bulrush (Scirpus fluviatilis), and a variety of waterborne creatures, such as the horseshoe crab, rice paddy snail, water snail, crucian carp, and mudfish. The Maehwamarum is in full bloom in early May, just before the farmers transplant the rice seedlings.
Ganghwa Maehwamarum Habitat
Ganghwa-gun, Incheon Metropolitan City / 0.3 hectare / Registration: October 13, 2008
A freshwater wetland that has developed behind the Sindu-ri Sand Dunes Natural Monument; endangered species inhabiting this area include the gold-spotted pond frog (Rana plancyi chosenica), boreal digging frog, lacertid ear (Eremias argus), and Chinese goshawk (Accipiter soloensis).
Taean-gun, Chungcheongnam-do Province / 6 hectares / Registration: December 20, 2007
Muan Tidal Flats
An intertidal zone tidal flats located along the inner edge of Hampyeongman Bay, this area has been designated a tidal flats provincial park for the magnificent scenery of its rugged sea cliffs and jagged coastline. It is a well-known habitat for the thin-legged common octopus, and home to an abundance of benthic creatures, such as the nereid worm (Lumbrineris nipponica). Muan-gun, Jeollanam-do Province / 3,859 hectares / Registration: January 14, 2008
Jangdo Island High Moor
Sinan-gun, Jeollanam-do Province / 9 hectares / Registration: March 30, 2005
Suncheon-si, Jeollanam-do Province / 3,550 hectares / Registration: January 20, 2006
The High Moor, Yongneup of Mt. Daeamsan
Inje-gun, Gangwon-do Province / 106 hectares / Registration: March 28, 1997
Odaesan National Park Wetlands
This high moor consists of three separate wetlands: Jilmoeneup, Sohwangbyeongsanneup, and Jogaedongneup. Endangered species found in this area include the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), long-tailed goral (Naemorhedus caudatus), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaeto), Callipogon relictus beetle, and the Korean ratsnake (Elaphe schrenckii). Pyeongchang-gun and Hongcheon-gun, Gangwon-do Province / 1.7 hectares / Registration: October 13, 2008
A high moor located on Mt. Jeongjoksan (700 meters) in Gajisan Provincial Park; endangered species of this area include the scarlet dwarf (Nannophya pygmaea), leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), and lacertid ear, while a member of the barberry family, known as Jeffersonia dubia, is found in nearby mountainous regions. It is also a treasure house of insect-eating plants, such as the round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), bladderwort (Utricularia racemosa), and common yellow bladderwort (Utricularia bifida). Ulsan / 4 hectares / Registration: December 20, 2007
Changnyeong-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do Pro¬vince / 854 hectares / Registration: March 2, 1998
This relatively large parasitic wetlands, found within a volcanic basin on Jejudo Island, is associated with a legendary tale about its origin. Endangered species found here include the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), fairy pitta (Pitta brachyura nympha), black kite (Milvus migrans), Japanese sparrowhawk (Accipiter gularis), Japanese paradise-flycatcher (Terpsiphone atrocaudata), Fabriciana nerippe, giant water bug, and obovata peony (Paeonia obovata). Jeju-si, Jeju Special Self-governing Province / 62.8 hectares / Registration: October 13, 2008
A parasitic wetlands in a volcanic cone located 508 meters above sea level on Mt. Suryeong-san, a southwest peak of Mt. Hallasan, on Jejudo Island; endangered species found in this area include the giant water bug (Lethocerus deyrollei) and boreal digging frog (Kaloula borealis). The Galeola septentionalis orchid grows in nearby mountainous regions. Seogwipo-si, Jeju Special Self-governing Province / 31 hectares / Registration: October 18, 2006
As of March 2009, the number of contracting parties (countries) to the Ramsar Convention stood at 159, reflecting a steady increase since its formation in 1971. Under this convention, the contracting parties are required to register at least one notable wetlands area within their national territory on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, and the wetlands on this list are called “Ramsar Wetlands.” The convention’s official name is the “Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Especially as Waterfowl Habitat.” However, over the 38 years since its launch, the Ramsar Convention has evolved into a treaty that not only protects waterfowl and their habitats, but also provides national and intergovernmental action plans and a systematic framework for international cooperation, in order to preserve and prudently utilize all wetland areas and their natural resources. Today, a total of 1,833 Ramsar Wetlands have been designated, encompassing a cumulative area of just over 170.32 million hectares.
According to the Ramsar Convention, wetlands are defined as “areas of marsh, fen, peatlands, or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water, the depth of which at low tide does not exceed 6 meters.” This comprehensive definition reflects the convention’s goal of recognizing the diverse types of wetlands in individual nations and the efforts to deal broadly with natural and artificial wetlands, in both inland and coastal regions. The Ramsar Convention, which seeks to publicize the economic, cultural, scientific, and aesthetic value of wetlands, and to prevent the loss of important wetland areas, encourages each nation to increase the number of its registered wetlands in order to protect and manage these valuable natural resources. After Korea became a contracting party to the convention, the High Moor, Yongneup of Mt. Daeamsan was the first wetlands area to be registered. Along with Upo Wetlands in Changnyeong-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do Province, which became the second registered site, the list now includes 11 wetland areas in Korea.
Registration and Protection Efforts
When a wetlands area is registered as a Ramsar Wetlands, detailed information about the site is recorded on a Ramsar Information Sheet, and the boundaries of the wetlands area are clearly delineated on a map. A Ramsar Wetlands should be selected in consideration of the international importance of its ecological, botanical, zoological, limnological, and hydrological value. Unlike world heritage programs, the Ramsar Convention accepts the areas designated by contracting parties without any screening; thus such designation requires only the effort to do so by the individual contracting party. Also, if the boundaries of a Ramsar Wetlands are altered or its ecological characteristics have changed or are likely to change, this information must be reported to the Ramsar Secretariat as soon as possible, along with relevant matters being discussed at a meeting requested by the contracting party. If a contracting party needs to eliminate or reduce the delineated area of a Ramsar Wetlands due to overriding national interests, the government must replace the lost wetland resources by establishing a new equivalent preservation area to serve as a replacement habitat.
At general meetings of the Conference of Contracting Parties, held every three years, the various topics of discussion include such matters as: additions and changes to the Ramsar Wetlands list, information about changes in the ecological characteristics of Ramsar Wetlands, and general and specific recommendations for the contracting parties in regard to conservation measures and prudent usage of wetland areas for the welfare of native plants and animals.