Posted tagged ‘South Korea’

The North/South Korea Demilitarized Zone could be the next new frontier for Eco-Tourism?

March 27, 2012
A South Korean checkpoint in the Korean Demili...

A South Korean checkpoint in the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Tensions between North Korea and South Korea have not improved since the signing of the armistice in 1953. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gun-toting soldiers patrol guard posts overlooking North Korean territory beyond a barbed-wire fence. Hundreds of red flags with a skull motif dot roadsides, warning of mines. This is the area which South Korea hopes to turn into a major eco-tourism attraction. Untouched by developers for six decades due to the military standoff, the scenic areas surrounding the world’s last Cold War frontier have paradoxically become a peaceful haven for wildlife. The 155-mile-long borderline which bisects the peninsula was fixed when the 1950-53 war ended with an armistice. A Demilitarized Zone extending for two kilometres each side of the line was designated as a buffer zone. Thousands of tourists who visit the truce village of Panmunjom within the DMZ each year get a grim reminder of the peninsula’s tragic past. Now Seoul is trying to put a more positive spin on the border region, by promoting its ecological value and opening trekking routes which will also give visitors a glimpse of the secretive North. “The DMZ has been no man’s land for decades, making its well-preserved natural surroundings a perfect site for eco-tourism,” Park Mee-Ja, a director of the environment ministry’s nature policy division, told AFP. “There is so much more to this area than just the sad history and the war.” The DMZ and surrounding area are home to nearly 3,000 plants and animals — including otters, mountain sheep, musk deer and dozens of other species — nearly extinct elsewhere in the crowded South, according to the government. Civilians are barred from entering the DMZ except at Panmunjom. The South’s military also restricts civilian access to the strip of land immediately south of the zone. The DMZ itself will remain off-limits to visitors. But after long deliberation the South’s army is finally set to sign an agreement this month to open up its outskirts — and to help develop routes free of mines. Nature trails seven to nine kilometres long, each of which generally takes six to eight hours to walk, are set to open next year in the east of the country. “You will be able to walk right alongside the barbed wire of the DMZ, look over North Korean territory from hills, or see battlefield relics that have been left untouched for decades,” said Park. Several areas already offer small-scale nature-watching programmes near the DMZ. But the trails to open next year will be the longest through the area south of the DMZ, said Park. The routes were initially developed by the army years ago to patrol the areas and troops will accompany trekking teams to prevent hikers from deviating from the mine-free paths. Seoul is also asking the United Nations cultural organization UNESCO to designate the DMZ as one of some 500 global Biosphere Reserves. Efforts began in 2005 to open up the southern approaches to the DMZ. But Park said periodic cross-border tensions delayed the plan, with the military squeamish about letting civilians into sensitive areas. Relations have been icy since Seoul accused of Pyongyang of torpedoing one of its warships with the loss of 46 lives in March 2010. The North angrily denied involvement but went on to shell a border island in November that year, killing four South Koreans and briefly sparking fears of war. Park was speaking during a recent media trip to the hillside observatory at Dora, a crowded tourist site near Panmunjom which overlooks the DMZ and the North’s territory. President Barack Obama is expected to visit the zone during his visit to South Korea this weekend to attend a nuclear security summit, becoming the latest in a series of US leaders to make the trip. Bill Clinton in 1993 described the DMZ as “the scariest place on earth.” “I think he (Obama) should come. I think he will be greatly inspired here,” Jennifer Seif, an American and an executive director of South Africa’s Fair Trade in Tourism, told AFP at Dora. “This place has a message…about trying not to resolve things through military options and about building bridges between countries. “I think this is something he stands for and he can bring the message back to America,” she said.

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The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) opens the way to eco-tourism

March 24, 2010
Korean Demilitarized Zone
Image by http2007 via Flickr

In 1953, the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was established to provide a buffer between the conflicting Northern and Southern nations–and today it is the most heavily militarized border in the world. But amid this icon of armed standoffs, in the narrow strip that divides the Korean Peninsula where no one is allowed, a highly diverse ecosystem has blossomed. And now, in a rare putting-aside of differences between the two countries squared off along the DMZ, the two Koreas will work together for the preservation of the corridor that has so long divided them.

The Korean DMZ, 155 miles long and roughly 2 miles wide, has been a literal ‘no man’s land’ for 57 years–and that means its been a virtual haven for wildlife. The heavily fortified strip of land is home to some of Korea’s most endangered species, like the Korean Tiger, Asiatic Black bear, and the extreme rare Red-crowned and White-naped cranes.

After years of speculation, today it was announced that after a meeting between cabinet-level agencies in South Korea, that the gem that lies between their two nations would be transformed into an ecological corridor to promote tourism and the preservation of the DMZ’s rich ecosystems.

According to Folha, the project will include a bicycle routes and an observation center within limited sections of the ecological corridor, still heavily guarded on both sides by the North and South Korean military. Further details about the project will be announced in September by the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism of South Korea.

The lessons that can be garnered from the situation along Korea’s DMZ are two-fold. On one hand, the fact that two otherwise feuding nations could come together peacefully to ensure the preservation of their shared ecological heritage is encouraging. On the other hand, that the corridor has become so naturally diverse simply because no humans were there to muddle with it speaks wonders to the significance of our presence in other regions of the world.

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Ecotourism in Korea’s DMZ?

January 4, 2010
The coat of arms of South Korea
Image via Wikipedia

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides North and South Korea�once described by Bill Clinton as �the scariest place on earth��is being promoted as an ecotourism destination.

Located an hour north of Seoul, the 249-kilometer (155-mile) long, 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) wide DMZ is known more for its armed soldiers, land mines and barbed wire than for being an oasis for rare flora and fauna. However, that is about to change.

Relatively untouched since 1953, when the two Koreas reached an armistice to halt the Korean War, the heavily fortified area is home to thousands of plant and animal species. As reported by The Guardian, environmentalists estimate there are at least 2,900 plant species, 70 mammals and 320 types of bird thriving in the area. There have also been unconfirmed sightings of rare tigers and leopards.

�The ecosystem in the DMZ is unique because it has been able to evolve over 56 years without human disturbance,� Kim Kwi Gon, professor of environmental planning and design at Seoul National University, told the Earth Times.

Kim is planning to undertake an ecological survey into the DMZ and hopes that the results will encourage the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to designate the zone as an official nature reserve by 2012.

Government authorities are also eager to rebrand the DMZ and promote it as a nature haven. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is collaborating with the Korea Tourism Organization to develop part of the buffer into a �Peace and Life Zone� (PLZ). The aim is to encourage peace and preserve the ecology, history and culture of the area while promoting tourist activities such as hiking. Because of high security and limited civilian access to the DMZ, independent tourists and tour groups will require permission from the Ministry of Defense.

Hall Healy, president of The DMZ Forum, a US-based non-governmental organization, argues that the untouched wetlands and ecosystems of the DMZ are a veritable gold mine. According to the Korea Society, he believes that if developed responsibly, the DMZ could provide Koreans with clean drinking water and trillions of won in revenue, as well as creating jobs in ecotourism, sustainable agriculture and ecosystem services.

While governments on both sides of the DMZ plan to develop designated border areas into a center for inter-Korean cooperation, international peace and ecological protection, it remains unknown how the project will affect tense relations between North and South Korea.

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