▲ These commemorative stamps mark the second anniversary of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site designation. Left: Youngcheon lava cave, right: Dancheomul lava cave. Photos courtesy Jeju Provincial Govt.
On June 27, 2007, in New Zealand, the 31st Session of the World Heritage Committee unanimously added Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes to UNESCO’s World Natural Heritage list. Honored were Mt. Halla, South Korea’s highest peak, the fortress-like Seongsan Ilchulbong tuff cone, and Geomun Oreum lava tubes. The UNESCO designation marked a significant milestone in shaping the future development of Jeju and also local priorities.
As Jeju celebrates a successful second year of continued growth through the designation, the future ahead promises to bring even greater challenges to find effective ways to maintain a harmony between development and conservation.
▲ Baekrok lake, at the top of Hallasan, is captured in this photo by Han Bong Jae. It won a bronze medal recently in the First Jeju World Natural Heritage International Photo Competition. Photo courtesy Dong-A Ilbo
Achievements /assignments at multiple levels As the ripple effects of the designation transform Jeju island into an internationally preferred tourist destination, its achievements/assignments can be assessed at multiple levels.
Locally, UNESCO’s designation as a World Natural Heritage Site has been a moral support to community involvement. For example, in June last year, more than 650 local residents took part in a volunteer tour guide program for the UNESCO designated sites. It let them share a common view that the sustainable and wise use of regional natural resources is critical for the future development of the tourist island.
The designation has also brought increases in the number of visitors, contributing to reinvigorating its local economy, a major thrust of income-generating scheme of the island. As of June, 2009, the number of foreign tourists to those designated sites showed about a 21 percent surge compared to last year, while visitor numbers climbed nearly 10 percent.
Nationally, the UNESCO recognition serves as a role model for replication elsewhere in the country and also an example of learning how to strike a balance between people’s welfare and ensuring environmental sustainability. Starting next year, middle and high school students are expected to learn more about Jeju and its World Natural Heritage sites in their modified social studies and science textbooks.
Internationally, it provides a concrete means of addressing international obligations to ensure sustainable development, in line with the principles of UNESCO’s World Natural Heritage.
Since the designation, Jeju Island has also gained international recognition from worldwide media such as BBC, NHK, and National Geographic Television, which highlighted the daring beauty of the sites and related environmental issues. Moreover, Korea Tourism Organization and Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea designated Jeju as a number one tourist destination in Korea, helping to building a “brand name” as a tourist island around the world.
▲ Seongsan Ilchulbong, or, Sunrise Peak, is one of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites on Jeju.
Shift in tourism paradigm to eco-friendly travel The UNESCO-endowed sites are being increasingly preferred by visitors who want to experience not only outstanding aesthetic beauty but also significant biological and geological values. The UNESCO recognition promoted a paradigm shift in tourism to eco-friendly travel from nature based tours, linking environment, culture, history, and ecology of the sites.
The best example is the establishment of a Geomun Oreum trekking course, which was selected as one of the best 20 eco tour programs in April, 2009 by the Ministry of Environment, Korea. The trekking course draws a growing number of visitors wanting to understand its geological features and eco diversity while taking in its beauty.
Increased support from the central government Its designation serves as a momentum for significantly increased support from the central government, Last year alone, approximately $10 million worth of central government funds were granted to help promote multiple conservation projects and activities. The major projects include the land purchase of adjacent areas of UNESCO-endowed sites and the construction of the World Natural Heritage Center, serving to protect those sites. A broad range of research and monitoring activities are also being carried out to maintain such harmony between development and conservation.
A series of events to commemorate its 2nd anniversary Jeju government is coordinating a two-month long series of events from June to August to celebrate the coveted designation.
Events include; The 1.2 km areas of Manjang cave which has not been accessible were open to the public for one week only, from June 22 to 28. The temporary permits to the cave were provided for viewing and scientific research. Hidden, majestic beauty of the Manjang cave was unveiled, capturing visitors imagination.
The 1st International Jeju World Natural Heritage Photograph Competition started May 1 and ran through June 1 under the title “Embrace Jeju Island.” A total of 1,272 photos by 286 contestants were submitted and winners were announced on June 16. There was also a contest to to create memorable, creative Jeju World Natural Heritage souvenirs. Award-winning photos and souvenirs will be actively promoted through online and offline exhibitions beginning in July.
Throughout July as summer vacation season shifts into high gear, the World Natural Heritage Management Office is holding a travel essay contest which will highlight the best experiences or memories of traveling the World Natural Heritage sites. The contest is open to locals and tourists alike, and essays should be submitted online only. In addition, the 2009 Geomun Oreum trekking competition, a World Natural Heritage Summer Camp for students and teachers, and a tourist satisfaction survey are all planned for August.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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