Conservation of the Core Ecological Axes of the Korean Peninsula

“Ecological axis” refers to an ecological habitat connecting areas that are ecologically important or areas whose ecological functions must be maintained in order to enhance biodiversity and ensure the continuity of ecosystem functions. Korea is building an ecological network on the Korean Peninsula to conserve and closely connect core ecological regions that have outstanding natural environments based on this concept of ecological axis. The Ministry of Environment has specified Baekdudaegan, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), and the coastal regions with islands as the three core ecological axes of Korea. 

Three Core Ecological Axes

The concept of ecological axes was first included in the Natural Environmental Conservation Act amended in 2004, and details on the establishment of an ecological network are being added to the Comprehensive Plan on National Environment and the Basic Plan on Conservation of Natural Environment formulated thereafter. In 2010, the government collectively formulated the “Korean Peninsula Ecological Axes Establishment Plan” to implement location restrictions, damaged area restoration projects, and other mid- and long-term conservation measures, as well as the restoration of connection points between core ecological axes. In August 2013, the “Korean Peninsula Ecological Axis Connection and Restoration Implementation Plan” was formulated, and a project is being carried out accordingly to select and restore 50 disconnected or damaged sections of the core ecological axes.

▶ Baekdudaegan Natural Ecological Axis

Equivalent to the spine of the Korean Peninsula, Baekdudaegan is a mountain range connecting the main mountains of the peninsula, including Baekdusan, Geumgangsan, Seoraksan, Taebaeksan, and Jirisan Mountains. It has important ecological significance for the following reasons. First, Baekdudaegan mostly consists of natural forests acting as a core habitat for wild fauna and flora and a passageway for the ecosystem. Second, it is an important source of biodiversity, as it is home to most of wild animals that live in Korea. Third, it has excellent conservational value due to high biodiversity in a small area, with intersecting northern and southern vegetation zones, for example, owing to its geographical characteristics.

Various development projects since the 1960s, however, have resulted in serious damage to the ecological axis of Baekdudaegan, and the “Baekdudaegan Protection Act” was established in December 2003 to prepare an institutional foundation for preventing reckless damage to Baekdudaegan.

▶ Demilitarized Zone Natural Ecological Axis

After the Korean War, the Military Demarcation Line and Civilian Control Line were created between South and North Korea to form the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The DMZ provides a unique environment that wildlife can inhabit without the influence of various development projects and other human activity, as public access to the DMZ is restricted. Accordingly, the DMZ is known to be inhabited by 5,097 species, including about 106 protected species. The habitats of the globally rare red-crowned crane and black-faced spoonbill are scattered throughout the DMZ. There has been increasing demand for development in this area as new opportunities arose for interaction and cooperation between the South and North after the 2000s, raising concern over development-related damage to the natural environment of the DMZ, which has been conserved until today.

The Ministry of Environment intends to manage the DMZ in a systematic manner by separating conservation and development areas based on ecological surveys. It plans to designate protected areas regarding regions that require conservation and to use development-suited areas for eco-tourism and other purposes with a minimum environmental burden. Accordingly, the DMZ ecological peace park is being planned to built in the Cheorwon region, which has an excellent ecosystem and major historical and peace-related significance. An application was sent to UNESCO in 2011 for the zone to be designated a biosphere reserve, but designation has been postponed, as some areas require supplementation.

▶ Islands and Coastal Regions

Islands and coastal regions with high conservational value based on ecosystem surveys have also been designated as protected areas. For example, 1,161 among the 2,679 uninhabited islands nationwide, were examined in terms of their vegetation, flora, geomorphological landscape, etc. from 1998 to 2013, and of these, 206 with particularly outstanding natural environments and ecosystems were designated as the specified islands.

Restoring Damaged Natural Ecosystems

The ecosystem conservation cooperation charge is a system in which, in the event of a development project that has a considerable impact on the ecosystem or biodiversity, a charge corresponding to the area of damage is imposed on the project operator according to the “polluter pays” principle. The charges collected are used for natural environment conservation projects, including ecosystem restoration. Moreover, in the event that an operator who has paid a cooperation charge carries out a natural environment conservation project such as nature replacement or ecosystem restoration, the project cost is refunded by up to 50% of the charge paid in order to encourage projects to restore damage to nature.

Since 2007, the charge can also be refunded if a third party with professional skills and experience in natural environment conservation and restoration carries out a natural environment conservation project instead of the operator who paid the charge. Consequently, major restoration projects can be implemented in a professional, systematic manner if a qualified natural environment conservation project agency is entrusted by several developers to carry out projects on their behalf.

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Last modified : 2017-12-12 08:38

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