Albion Monitor /News
[Editor's note: See also "Clinton Blasted on Landmines Decision" for related information on landmines in the DMZ.]

Nature Preserve Ideal For Korean DMZ

by Danielle Knight

"The DMZ is a ready-made nature reserve containing the last vestiges of Korean natural heritage"
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Uninhabited by humans for the past 45 years, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea has become an unlikely sanctuary for the region's endangered animals and plant species.

But environmentalists and scientists are fearful for the future of the DMZ nature preserve, an area 250 kilometers long and four kilometers wide, should there be a reunification of the Korean peninsula.

In the latest issue of the U.S. Journal of Science, researcher Ke Chung Kim of the Center for Biodiversity Research at Pennsylvania State University, calls for industry to be kept away from the DMZ in a proposed "Korean Peace Bioreserves System."

"The DMZ is a ready-made nature reserve containing the last vestiges of Korean natural heritage," says Kim. "The Bioreserves System provides a strategy to preserve the rich biodiversity of the DMZ while fostering trust, understanding, and respect between North and South Korea."

Kim envisions it as a natural opportunity to protect the many endangered species while fostering trust between the two Koreas
Regarded as one of the most pristine green spaces left in Asia, the DMZ, with its land mines and barbed wire, is also considered the world's most dangerous border. While rival armies snarl at each other across the divide between the two countries, cranes, swans and geese -- too light to trigger the mines -- dive for food in pristine rivers.

Environmentalists and scientists are concerned that if the two Koreas are ever joined, the DMZ will be developed and become polluted like much of the rest of the Korean peninsula.

Korea, once known as the "hermit kingdom" and a "land of embroidered rivers and mountains" has seen much of its natural ecosystems, including coastline and salt marshes, converted into industrial and urban centers.

Development in South Korea has caused severe pollution of waterways and farmlands by pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and industrial and municipal waste, says Kim. In North Korea, rampant deforestation has caused severe soil erosion and flooding; military operations have also contributed to environmental degradation.

This has resulted in a tremendous loss of biodiversity, says Kim. Almost 30 percent of the mammals and 60 percent of amphibians have disappeared. Furthermore, there is only meager knowledge of Korean biodiversity; for example there has been research into less than one-third of the insect species.

"We may not know even what is endangered or what has become extinct," Kim told IPS.

Every month, development creeps nearer to the demilitarized zone. The metropolitan area of Seoul keeps reaching closer to the demarcation line drawn up by armistice negotiators in 1953 with the end of the Korean War. An area near the DMZ called Kimpo Peninsula, which had about 6,000 residents five years ago, today has 250,000.

Because the ecosystems and landscape in the DMZ represent a cross section of the Korean peninsula, Kim envisions it as a natural opportunity to protect the many endangered species while fostering trust between the two Koreas.

Wildlife surveys have revealed the zone harbors many plants and animals that are considered endangered or threatened in the rest of the peninsula, says Kim. The DMZ ecosystems provide wintering grounds for two of the world's most endangered birds, the white-naped crane and the red-crowned crane.

Preservation of DMZ wildlife should begin with the establishment of biodiversity preserves that could limit human involvement, says Kim. These could be administered jointly by both countries, and include international parks for natural heritage conservation and ecotourism.

"The immediate goal," says Kim, "is to encourage the two Koreas to agree on the development of the Bioreserves System." The progress of coming closer to a peace agreement between the two countries should provide a more favorable political climate for the System, he adds.

Since the Bioreserves System was first proposed in 1994, effort has focused on gaining public understanding and support within South Korea. Building on the work of artists from North Korea, a group of South Korean artists have promoted the project through a series of major art events and academic forums.

Kim has focused on engaging North Korean scientists in cooperative projects for the protection of migratory birds. Special projects are also being developed to help advance biodiversity research and conservation in North Korea.

In May, a Presidential Commission for Promoting Globalization, headed by South Korea's prime minister, recommended "selectively preserving the ecological integrity" of the DMZ - Kim notes that officials are being pressured by industrial interests to develop the DMZ.

Once the concept is accepted, the formal process of establishing the bioreserves can begin with a bilateral working conference involving the two countries and global conservation organizations, he says.

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Albion Monitor October 13, 1997 (

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