▲ Seogwang Gotjawal Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
Jeju’s Gotjawal woodlands and oreum volcanic cones could be added to an island-wide national park if plans are approved next year, says Director Ko Dae Hyeun of the Jeju Provincial Environmental Policy Division.
“Right now, the National Park is centered on Mt. Hallasan. As you know, Jeju has many other areas of natural beauty such as the oreum, gotjawal, and marine areas. By designating these within a national park we can preserve Jeju’s natural character,” said Ko.
Other candidate sites include Jeju’s Biosphere Reserve, Global Geopark, and World Natural Heritage Sites.
A 500-billion won feasibility study by the Jeju Development Institute is currently underway. It will designate the island into zones much like the core, buffer, and transition zones of the existing Biosphere Reserve; Ko says the plans are unprecedented in Korea.
“Looking at the map, there are regions of volcanic cones and the Gotjawal forest to the east and west, and also coastal regions and valleys to the north and south. Jeju national park will combine mountainous and coastal regions through this designation, making it unique in Korea,” he said.
Ko added that the island will be differentiated into usage zones for development, conservation, and residency, for example. This would prioritize development in some areas of the island, while strictly restricting it in others, he said.
Although many of the habitats are already legally protected in some way, the big advantage of national-level designation is the access to extra funds for conservation and facilities.
“There will be more restrictions, but as development becomes harder the ecosystems will slowly be restored in these areas. There will also be an increased budget for monitoring and researching the state of the ecosystem,” said Ko.
Ko also said that although newly-designated national-park sites are likely to experience an increase in visitation, facilities would be greatly improved to protect local ecosystems.
Ko added that the island brand was also an important factor in chasing national park designation.
“There is a difference in the strength of the brand. Awareness of provincial park status is quite low, but awareness is much higher for national parks... Although attracting and maintaining tourist numbers is important, national park status can improve awareness of the need for conservation,” he said.
Although a recent report by JDI says that 87.4 percent of those surveyed support the national park plans, there is some concern among landowners about the restrictions that could be placed on development.
Some 40 percent of volcanic cone land and 60 percent of Gotjawal woodland is in private hands. National park designation would provide access to state funds to purchase this land, which has been a long-term goal of local conservationists such as the Gotjawal Trust.
The final decision on Jeju National Park will be made by the Ministry of the Environment in the first half of 2017.
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