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Mt. Halla: Jeju’s Geopark crown jewelGGN designation leads to huge tourism boost, though science research has yet to see funding increases
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승인 2011.01.02  18:55:43
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▲ A wide array of winter scenes of Mt. Halla. All photos by Oh Hee Sam

At the beginning of October, 2010, the Global Geoparks Network announced that Jeju Island would be its 20th member, making it Korea’s only province to be assigned Geopark status. Under the categories of geology, archaeology, biology and cultural interest, nine sites on the island were inspected and later certified: Mt. Halla, Seongsan Sunrise Peak, Manjang Cave, Seogwipo Formation, Mt. Sanbang, Dragon Head Rock Cliff, Suwol Peak, Cheonjiyeon Waterfalls and Daepo Columnar Joint. Twenty-one other sites on the island are under consideration for certification in the coming years.

This series will look at the ramifications of Geopark certification in the areas of science and research, preservation, and education. The question we are asking is if and how the increased attention from tourists and locals alike will have a positive or negative effect on these sites.

The Jeju Weekly will speak with scientists, environmentalists and others associated with these nine sites over the coming months. We begin the series with the most prominent of geological features on the island: Mt. Halla. — Ed.

An introduction

At 1,950 meters, Mt. Halla is the tallest mountain in South Korea and the most prominent landmark on the island. This area was volcanically active for the last 2 million years, though the final formation of Jeju Island occurred between 400,000 and 700,000 years ago. It is a shield volcano with shallow-sloping sides. Parallel volcanic cones called oreum are also characteristic of the island’s geology. Jeju has 368 oreum — the highest concentration in the world — and they give the island very distinctive looking panoramas. Mt. Halla has a number of uniquely famous formations including Yeongsil Crater, Byeongpungbawi Rock, Samgak Peak and Seonnyeo Falls, among others.
Mt. Halla was designated a national park in 1970 and covers an area of 151.3km2 (8.3 percent of Jeju Island), of which 60 percent or 90.9km2 is a nature protection zone.

▲ Photo by Oh Hee Sam

Some main features of interest to scientists and tourists

Mt. Halla’s crater lake. It is 110 meters deep and about 18,200 square meters in area, with a circumference of 1.7 kilometers. In the summer typhoon season it has been known to fill up to 66 percent of capacity.
The crater was named after a legend that mountain gods riding white roe deer (baengnok) came down to drank water from it.

Off Yeongsil Trail is a high grassland with Witsae Oreum and Banga Oreum directly opposite the crater wall of Baengnokdam. Well known for its fields, which have azaleas in the springtime and change to swaths of green grasses and colorful mountain flowers, it is considered one of the “10 Scenic Wonders of Yeongju.”

Hiking trails
Now that the 600-meter stretch of Sara Oreum was added last month, Mt. Halla boasts 36.4 kilometers of trails. The longest is Seongpanak (9.6 km), followed by Donnaeko (9.1 km), Gwaneumsa (8.7 km), Eorimok (4.7 km) and Yeongsil (3.7 km).

Fauna and flora
Because of Mt. Halla’s prominence and height, the temperature and ecosystem range from very cold on the upper-layers to tropical zones. In between are grasslands, swamps and pristine forests. Agricultural land and park land make up the majority of the island.

There are 3,315 species of insects in 300 families and 25 genuses. Of those, there are 90 species of beetles, including some unique to the island, like certain ground beetles and dor beetles. About 250 species of spiders live on the island.

There are nine species of amphibians, 11 of reptiles. They live both on the island and the mainland. Jeju’s grassland, swampland and forests are habitats for frogs, salamanders, toads and lizards. At altitudes above 1,500 meters live some some hearty types of salamanders, fire-bellied toads and kingsnakes, among others.

Birds make up 281 indigenous species island-wide, and there are about 160 on Mt. Halla. The list is extensive: peregrine falcon, eagle owl, white-naped crane and the fairy pitta to name a few. The island is an important site along the East Asia-Australia Flyway.

There are 16 mammalian species including the once endangered roe deer. There are no predators among the mammals.

There are an estimated 1,600+ types of plants on the mountain.

▲ Photo by Oh Hee Sam

Education and tourism
According to Mrs. Yang Chun Suk, a Mt. Halla National Park Office employee, the history of the mountain as an environmental site of interest to scientists and tourists alike is a long one.

In 1974, when record-keeping began, the park recorded 23,000 visitors, a number which rose to 157,000 in 1984, 501,000 in 1994, 669,000 in 2004 — and then after its designation as a World Natural Heritage — 926,000 in 2008, and 988,000 in 2009, she said.

“The designation as a World Natural Heritage has given Mt. Halla a great publicity boost both domestically and internationally, and the recently increasing public interest in health has also contributed to the escalation of visitor count,” she said in an email interview.

As a Geopark, Mt. Halla is expected to attract visitors at an even more increasing rate. This could turn out to be a source of problems.

“A ‘national park’ has two contradicting objectives which are both the conservation and utilization of natural resources, and this has to be approached very carefully to balance the two goals and find harmony. Currently there is research underway to appropriately regulate the visitor count,” said Yang.

“Overall,” she said, “the increase of visitors on Mt. Halla has been a significant contribution to the tourism industry on the island as a whole.”

There are currently 10 natural environment guides employed to manage natural experience and interpretation programs.

“This year from April to December, the programs about Mt. Halla’s oreum, animals, and plants, and valley are run twice a day (morning and afternoon) to accommodate visitors who make reservations online or spontaneously show up,” she said.

Geopark status and scientific research
Volcanologist Jeon Yong Mun said during the assessment of Mt. Halla as a World Natural Heritage Site in 2007, “It was concluded that Mt. Halla holds great scientific value, there are a wide variety of biota and floristic composition, many rare and endemic biota. And Mt. Halla has many sites such as Baengnokdam, Muljangol, 1100 wetland, which are estimated to be of global scientific value.”

However, Ahn Ung San, a geologist and member of the Jeju Island Geopark Promotion Team, says that recognition stemming from Geopark status has yet to affect research funding.

“Hopefully, the Geopark and World Natural Heritage designation will serve as opportunities for us to realize that it is impossible to transform Jeju’s natural resources into global Jeju brand image with temporary interest and investment,” Dr. Ahn said in an email interview, though he acknowledged that there are no “specific regulations or investment” stemming from GNN membership.

“Having said that, the expansion of public interest following the verification will, in turn, attract the interest and investment of local organizations and local research institutes (i.e. universities).”

As for potential groundbreaking discoveries to be made in the future on Mt. Halla, Dr. Ahn sketched out the history of scientific research on the island.

“The first of the researches regarding the formation of Jeju volcanic island and Mt. Halla was conducted by a Japanese scholar in the 1920s. A series of studies such as the drafting of Jeju’s geological map in 1971, embarkment of homoplastic research in the 1980s and 1990s, and drawing up of a detailed geological map in the 2000s were then conducted. Despite several studies, there are still disagreements between scholars on the formation of this volcanic island, and there aren’t substantial research outcomes regarding the mountainous areas including Mt. Halla.”

Dr. Ahn believes that rather than seeking new research subjects, scientists should focus on the formative history of Mt. Halla and the island.

“Until now, the mountainous areas including Mt. Halla have been elusive to detailed research due to access difficulties to the rough landscapes,” he said. Dr. Ahn did indicate that scientific study is likely to increase in one of the most common, yet unstudied, kinds of oreum on the island: the cinder cones.

“Studies on Tuff Cones and Tuff Rings have been conducted by Korean researchers on numerous accounts, often on an international scale, and are internationally renowned,” he said. Only recently “individual cinder cones are drawing more attention of the researchers than before. This will lead to a better understanding of volcanic activities in the future.”

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A wide array of winter scenes of Mt. Halla. All photos by Oh Hee Sam

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