Ecotourism is a form of nature tourism in which utmost consideration is given to conservation of the environment, including biological diversity, wildlife and ecological systems, with emphasis placed on educating tourists about the environment and how to conserve it. Ecotourism areas often include existing human settlements (or communities), especially of traditional peoples, and an ecotourism plan must consider ways to conserve local cultural traditions and identities and how to bring benefits to these local communities.
Although still a minor component of overall tourism development on a global basis, ecotourism is expanding rapidly, and it tends to attract tourists who are respectful of the natural environment and local cultures. Ecotourism has further potential for development, particularly in local areas that offer ecologically interesting natural environments that are often combined with settlements of traditional ethnic peoples. Because it normally tends to be on a small scale, ecotourism can usually be developed within the scope of local resources, but technical assistance to the local community is often required to ensure proper development and management. South Korea has recently launched several ecotourism programs to attract both domestic and international tourists.
Korea is one of the greatest countries to visit in eastern Asia for both serious and casual bird watching. With a varied landscape, a good road system, cheap public transport, and a rapidly-expanding network of local groups interested in promoting green tourism in their area, Korea offers the accessible spectacle of winter flocks of waterfowl, clouds of migrant shorebirds in spring or fall, or mountain forests in summer alive with the songs of thrushes and warblers. As a casual birdwatcher on a business trip or with family for a holiday, tourists will have the chance to see a number of interesting birds anywhere, but there are several places especially worth visiting, either in the main cities of Busan or Seoul, or at least within an hour or two of them by car.
For those in Seoul, a visit to any one of several of the temple complexes in the heart of the city is a must. Along with this, hiking in the mountainous National Parks is recommendable, or in mid-winter there are ample opportunities to watch ducks, geese or even eagles and vultures along the Han River. In Busan, bird watching is more difficult, but areas of trees and bushes at the base of Busan Tower can be interesting, and the spectacular Nakdonggang River and the extremely popular Junam reservoirs, an hour or so out of town, should provide tourist with a great experience.
For temple visitors, the world-famous Kyong-ju area has not only an abundance of cultural sites, but also rivers and hills for hiking. For those travelers wanting a weekend away it is recommended to try Namhae Island, with historical sites and beaches. Because of the still prevalent academic bias to “birding”, however, there is still no real national network and it is difficult to get upto-date information on birds or their status.
As North Korea and South Korea begin to erase 50 years of conflict following a successful summit meeting in June 2000, conservation groups are offering another recipe for peace. They want to protect the DMZ between North Korea and South Korea, which has become a haven for endangered plants and animals. With the exception of a few military intelligence officers, no humans have crossed the barbed wire fence that defines the DMZ in decades. Because of its isolation, the area contains one of the last vestiges of natural habitat. Established at the end of the Korean War in 1953, the 240-km long, 4-km wide corridor traverses a major river delta, grasslands in the west and rugged mountain terrain in the east. Before the Korean War, the country was known as the “land of embroidered rivers and mountains”. But for the past four decades, the integrity of the area’s ecosystems has been severely reduced. Industrial sites and urban centers have replaced most of South Korea’s natural ecosystems. Plant and animal habitat has been drastically fragmented, modified or completely destroyed. In North Korea, rampant deforestation has caused severe soil erosion and flooding. Military operations have also contributed to environmental degradation.
Yet as many as 678 species of rare animals and plants inhabit the DMZ that separates the two Koreas, a Seoul National University professor stated in a report after three years of research. The report confirmed that the DMZ was home to many types of flora and fauna. According to the report, 13 species of natural “icons,” such as the white-naped crane, were among the animals and plants discovered in the DMZ. In addition, 11 species of rare animals were also found.
However, the report warned that the ecological system in the DMZ could be threatened seriously by clearing, road construction and water and land contaminants. Amid rising hopes for peaceful co-existence on the Korean peninsula, an eco-village is to be established within the DMZ, the place that has stood at the heart of cold war politics for the past five decades. The initiative to turn the border zone into an environmental district has been taken by the newly formed Committee for Peace and Life Community.
Referred to as the Olympics of Environment, the 10th Ramsar Convention was held in Changwon in Gyeongsang-namdo Province from October 28, 2008 to November 4, 2008. The conference contributed to raising public awareness of wetlands in Korea. Since the end of the conference, numerous tourists have visited and continue to visit wetlands to enjoy the beautiful nature and observe the wide range of flora and fauna. In particular, Uponeup Wetland in Changnyeong, Junam Wetlands Park in Changwon, and Suncheonman Bay are major eco-tour destinations in Korea. Stradling across four towns in Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnamdo-Province, Uponeup is the largest natural wetland in Korea. It consists of four swamps: Uponeup (1.28km), Mokpo (0.53km), Sajipo (0.36km), and Jjokjibeol (0.14km) and spans a total area of 8.54km. The wetland area (2.31km), which harbors water from floods or summer monsoon, is 210 times the size of a football field. It is also known as the oldest wetland in Korea: traces of dinosaur fossil 140 million years old are still preserved there.
Uponeup is a valuable habitat for such endangered species such as the spoonbill, wildcat, and thorn lotus. It is also home to 344 plant species like bulrush and bladderwort as well as 76 species of birds such as swan and spot-billed duck. Consequently, it was put on the Ramsar List in March 1998. Junam Wetlands Park is the nation’s largest migratory bird habitat. It is located in Changwon, Gyeongsang-namdo Province with about 10,000 to 20,000 migratory birds flying annually to the park. The Ramsar Culture Center, where visitors can learn about the Ramsar Convention and its mission, is also located in Junam. Since it is only an hour by car from Uponeup Wetland, many visitors come here after visiting Uponeup wetland to see white-napped cranes and Baikal teals.
The biggest attraction of Junam Wetlands Park is its standing as the nation’s largest migratory bird habitat. A migratory bird festival is held here every November, and the park is also called a live natural museum or a haven for migratory birds because of the wide variety of birds that stop here to partake in its abundant food supply and great location along their migration course. As mentioned, approximately 20,000 birds, including the rare endangered spoonbill and kite, as well as white heron, wild goose, and teal, stop here.
Suncheonman Bay is a coastal wetland comprising extensive fields of reeds and endless wetlands. It was the first coastal estuary in Korea to be put on the Ramsar list in January 2006 and recognized for its preservation utility worldwide. The bay is famous for golden fields of reeds that offer shelter for hooded cranes, a natural monument, and other migratory birds like the black faced spoonbill and swan. The Sshaped waterway provides stunning sunsets and is frequently visited by professional photographers. As the venue for the annual reed festival held in October and November, the 1.2 kilometer-long field of reeds provides a perfect setting for a leisurely walk. During sunset, in particular, the reeds flutter in the wind to create a background of golden waves. Fascinated visitors love to take pictures with the reed field providing a dramatic background. To enjoy a panoramic view of the sunset landscape in Suncheonman Bay, climb up to Mt. Yongsan Observatory, where one is sure to be delighted by the harmony presented by the Sshaped waterway and the breathtaking sunset. Recently, the number of tourists who want to use the natural environment as the setting for comfortable recreation and leisure has increased greatly. However, considering that most of the famous places for tourism in the nation of Korea are rich in biodiversity, thoughtless tourism may cause damage to the natural ecosystem. Thus, considerable counteraction must be set prior to opening up varieties of ecotourism programs.
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