▲ The Geomunoreum Lava tubes, above, and Seongsan Ilchulbong, below, are two of the three iconic Jeju landmarks that are reistered as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Photos courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
On June 27, 2007, Jeju was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List as a World Natural Heritage Site, under the designation of Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes. The list, as of April 2009, includes 890 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value.
These break down into 689 cultural sites, 176 natural and 26 mixed properties in 148 countries that have ratified the World Heritage Convention. Korea previously had eight World Cultural Heritage Sites, but Jeju’s listing is the country’ first World Natural Heritage Site.
Being listed with UNESCO requires that a site fulfill at least one of 10 strict criteria, and Jeju’s triple property listing of Mount Halla, the Geomunoreum lava tubes system and the Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak) tuff cone was considered to excel in two – exceptional natural beauty and significant geological features. The physical attributes alone would not have been enough, however, to gain a place on the list without a strong management plan to ensure the maintenance and protection of the sites, and firm support from residents of the island.
Achieving the coveted place on the list was a long and complicated process, involving hundreds of experts and scholars and many more civil servants, said Oh Jeoung Hun, director of the Headquarters for Jeju World Natural Heritage Management. What most surprised officials, however, was the massive groundswell of support from the public.
▲ Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
Korea had previously tried to list Sorak Mountain as a World Natural Heritage Site but was unable to get agreement from the private landowners in the affected area. On Jeju, not only were the landowners fully supportive, but public support was more than five times what was hoped for. Having qualified in physical terms, Oh said Jeju needed to demonstrate to UNESCO that locals also understood and valued the sites. A petition of support was started, in the hopes of getting 300,000 signatures. The petition was taken not only around Jeju but to areas on the Korean mainland that attracted a large number of visitors, such as the Insadong art district of Seoul, and also overseas, with those being asked to sign told, “To gain World Natural Heritage Site status, the most important thing is your support.” Far exceeding the target of 300,000 signatures, the petition was signed by 1.5 million people, including former Korean presidents and many overseas dignatories. “That’s three times the population of Jeju,” Oh said.
The central government and the Jeju provincial government, which had by then taken the leading role in backing the project, were “surprised and very happy” at the response, Oh said, and saw the listing as an opportunity to “brighten Jeju’s future and give Jeju an international brand name.”
▲ The ambitious design for the Jeju World Heritage Site Center set for completion by the 2012 World Conservation Convention. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
In forwarding that intention, the central and local governments (with 70 percent of funding from Seoul and 30 percent from Jeju) have already purchased 85 percent of the private land in the listed areas and expect to buy the remainder next year, a year before originally planned. The Jeju World Natural Heritage Site Center will also be built within the buffer zone of Geomunoreum lava tubes, with the groundbreaking scheduled for July and completion expected to be before Jeju hosts the World Conservation Congress in 2012. A central display in the center will be the thick book of signatures from those supporting Jeju’s UNESCO listing, to acknowledge the part played by all of those who signed. “Before,” Oh said, “people didn’t know what UNESCO World Heritage Sites meant or the value of them, but with this, we gained international appraisal.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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