• Updated 2020.10.22 10:19
  • All Articles
  • member icon
  • facebook cursor
  • twitter cursor
NewsRenewable Energy
A rocky road ahead for gotjawal despite seed of hopeJeju’s unique ecosystem far from out of the woods despite landmark WCC Resolution
폰트키우기 폰트줄이기 프린트하기 메일보내기 신고하기
승인 2013.01.24  11:40:44
페이스북 트위터
▲ A variety of mosses find a luxurious home on the damp forest floor Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province

As development continues unabated across the island, gotjawal - the unique woodland habitat of Jeju - continues to beat a retreat.

The World Conservation Congress (WCC), which rolled into town in Sept. 2012, could be its saving grace. The resulting Gotjawal Resolution - WCC-2012-Res-063 - lays out the preliminary steps needed to safeguard this precious ecosystem.

Alongside placing obligations on the WCC to support the preservation of gotjawal, Article 2 “Urges the Government of the Republic of Korea, the Government of Jeju Special Self-Governing Province and the private sector conducting the developments to take active part in the Gotjawal Trust Movement, to establish long-term plans and to take immediate and practical actions for the conservation of the gotjawal forest.”

Despite the economy of the Jeju language - ‘got’ (woodland) and ‘jawal’ (rock) outline gotjawal’s key features - other descriptions are less succinct.

The Jeju Dialect Dictionary vividly runs, “a forest where trees and vines are disorderly entangled.” More soberly, the WCC describes, “an area where there are irregular lava rocks regardless of the lava’s property, diverse animals and plants exist, and where a unique ecological system is sustained with a high value in conservation.”

▲ Lush flora and fauna are ubiquitous features of gotjawal Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province

Due to gotjawal’s inhospitable soils - it is old-growth forest shallowly rooted atop a volcanic rock shelf - the area was traditionally left uncultivated, as the hard lava formations meant any attempts at sowing were futile. In the 1980s, as technology improved, the rock began to be cleared and leisure developments gathered apace. Golf courses and theme parks, for tourist dollars, now cover once pristine forest - never to return.

The fingerprints of gotjawal’s molten genesis can be seen the way it snakes seaward, spreading finger-like down the slopes of Mt. Halla. Although it once covered a much larger proportion of the island, areas still under woodland are a mere 6.1 percent, or 113.3 square kilometers. The four main areas of gotjawal are: Hankyung-Andeok in the southwest; Aewol in the northwest; Jocheon-Hamdeok in the northeast; and Gujwa-Seongsan in the east.

The IUCN recognizes the biological, geological and cultural importance of gotjawal to the whole Jeju biosphere and laid down the gauntlet for action to be taken. Despite Jeju policymakers being more than willing to tout Jeju’s green credentials, development continues to be a grave threat to the gotjawal and the traditional knowledge of the Jeju people.

When it comes to gotjawal protection, Jeju is not yet out of the woods. The competing interests of developers and conservationists will continue to vie for favor with the province’s planners long into the future. Only time will tell if the 2012 WCC Resolution will be enough to save this age-old woodland.

The distinctive features of gotjawal
Gotjawal is recognised for three distinctive features: volcanic bedrock; water penetration; and endangered flora and fauna.

Volcanic bedrock
As per its etymology, gotjawal is rocky forest; it lies on lava formations that are barely hidden beneath the mossy carpet of the forest floor. The basaltic lava is mostly “aʻā clinker” which is known in the Jeju language as “bille.” There are also smaller areas of Pahoehoe lava, but most gotjawal sit atop aʻā clinker.

The aʻā clinker is classified as either slabby or rock block aʻā lava. These forms of aʻā clinker are quintessential to gotjawal, as can be seen on the rocky forest floor, which at times seems strewn with rubble. The aʻā clinker forms a platform 1-3 meters in depth, with lowland gotjawal tending to have a thicker shelf.

Water penetration
The aʻā clinker forms a natural, underground aquifer, into which 46% of Jeju’s rainfall permeates - the highest rate in all of Korea. The water pools in subterranean chambers, then travels in rivulets down the mountain where it is siphoned for use; it is the main source of water for all of Jeju’s half a million inhabitants.

The high rate of permeability means that in the areas of the east and west where gotjawal is found, there are very few rivers. The underground water system creates a unique habitat both at ground-level and below the gotjawal surface. It is not only unique in Korea, but extremely rare internationally.

Endangered flora and fauna

Due to the difficulties in farming gotjawal, it provides a unique habitat for species of plants, insects and animals. Some of these are unique to Jeju, and species of plankton, mosses and ferns found in the gotjawal marshlands are rare elsewhere. For example, the northeastern gotjawal is crucially important for the Jeju gosarisam and Mankyua jejuense, both of which are endemic to Jeju.

45% of all of Jeju’s plant species are found in gotjawal and birdlife is particularly abundant, including endangered Fairy Pitta and Japanese Paradise Flycatcher. Dong Baek Dong San (Camelia Forest) wetland (Jocheon-Hamdeok Gotjawal), recognised as internationally important under the Ramsar Convention, provides a habitat for 36 species of plants and pitta that are listed as endangered by International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Among the animals that inhabit the gotjawal are 29 mammal species, including roe deer, nine species of amphibians, and 11 species of reptiles, including the black-headed snake, legally protected by the Korean government.

[Related Stories]

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
All materials on this site are protected under the Korean Copyright Law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published without the prior consent of Jeju Weekly.
폰트키우기 폰트줄이기 프린트하기 메일보내기 신고하기
페이스북 트위터

Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
60 Second Travel
Jeju-Asia's No.1 for Cruise

Jeju Weekly

Mail to  |  Phone: +82-64-724-7776 Fax: +82-64-724-7796
#505 jeju Venture Maru Bldg,217 Jungangro(Ido-2 dong), Jeju-si, Korea, 690-827
Registration Number: Jeju Da 01093  |  Date of Registration: November 20, 2008  |  Publisher: Hee Tak Ko  | Youth policy: Hee Tak Ko
Copyright 2009 All materials on this site are protected under the Korean Copyright Law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published
without the prior consent of jeju