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Gochang-gun designated as UNESCO biosphere reserve

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As Korea's fifth after Seorak-san, Jeju, Dadohae, Gwangneung

Gochang-gun designated as
UNESCO biosphere reserve

Gochang County is blessed with beautiful natural resources combined with splendid cultural assets. Also, in Gochang, there are gifts of nature everywhere which make it the treasure county of tourism such as the nationally-renowned Seonun-sa Temple, ancient dolmen and UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, to name just a few.

▲Mayor Lee Kang-soo of Gochang County, Jeollabuk-do Province.

Against this backdrop, Gochang has recently been designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve making the list Gochang in Jeollabuk-do (North Jeolla Province) as Korea’s fifth region following Seoraksan National Park, Jeju Island, Dadohae, and Gwangneung Forest.

With the new designation as of May 28 by UNESCO in Paris, the entire Gochang county that stretches 671.52 square kilometers has been designated as a protected area for the first time in Korea to pave the way for Gochang becoming the most popular ecotourism destination in East Asia.

To celebrate the festive event, the municipality of Gochang held a ceremony on May 17, 2013 during which the certificate of authentication of UNESCO was formally given to Mayor Lee Kang-soo of Gochang Count.

The second regular meeting of Korea Committee of UNESCO MAB was also held on May 17 at the Well Park City in Gochang with the participation of 50 plus members including Choi Jung-il, chairman of Korea MAB Committee which was followed by an international seminar on May 18 to discuss on problems at the interface of scientific, environmental, societal and development issues of MAB.

Among the participants at the seminar were Dr. Gretchen Kalonji, Assistant Director General for Natural Sciences, UNESCO; Choi Jong-kwan, secretary-general of Korea Committee of MAB; Prof. Cho Do-soon (a professor at the Catholic University of Korea); and Je Jong-kil (a researcher at the Institute for Climate Change Action).

Dr. Kalonji (visiting UNESCO assistant director general explained that MAB combines natural and social sciences, economics and education to improve human livelihood and safeguard natural ecosystems, thus promoting innovative approaches to economic development that is socially and culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable, among others.

He also stressed that the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme is an Intergovernmental Scientific Programme aiming to set a scientific basis for the improvement of the relationships between people and their environment globally.

Launched in the early 1970s, the MAB Programme proposes an interdisciplinary research agenda and capacity building that target the ecological, social and economic dimensions of biodiversity loss and the reduction of this loss. It’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves currently counts 621 biosphere reserves in 117 countries all over the world.

MAB combines natural and social sciences, economics and education to improve human livelihood and safeguard natural ecosystems, thus promoting innovative approaches to economic development that is socially and culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable, according to Dr.Kalonji.
The agenda of the MAB Programme is defined by its main governing body, the International Co-ordinating Council in cooperation with the broader MAB Community.

▲Korean raspberry (Rubus Coreanus) growing in Gochang

Sub-programmes and activities focus on specific ecosystems: mountains; drylands; tropical forests; urban systems; wetlands; and marine, island and coastal ecosystems. Interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral collaboration, research and capacity building are promoted, he said.

For implementation of its interdisciplinary work on-ground, MAB relies on the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, and on thematic networks and partnerships for knowledge-sharing, research and monitoring, education and training, and participatory decision-making.

Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems promoting solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. You can find more detailed information on biosphere reserves here.

Chosen by the UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program, the biosphere reserves are globally recognized for their preservation values for biological and cultural diversity that harmonize with economic and social development.

Among the regions within the county are core-protected areas which will come under the closer scrutiny of UNESCO. Gochang’s core-protected regions include Gochang Tidal Flat, Ungok Wetland, Goindol Village, Seonunsan Provincial Park, and Donglim Reservoir Wildlife Sanctuary.

Gochang Tidal Flat was added to the Ramsar List of Wetlands in 2010. Ramsar wetlands are selected based on the Ramsar Convention that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The 40.6-square-kilometer-sized Gochang flat, the largest among the Ramsar wetlands in Korea, is famous for its diverse array of natural monuments and endangered wildlife including the Kentish Plover, Eurasian Oystercatcher, red-backed sandpiper, and whooper swan.

▲Vast expanse of ‘Green Baley’ farm in Gochang

Gochang has another Ramsar designated wetland, Ungok Wetland. Compared to Gochang Tidal Flat which is a coastal wetland, Ungok is an inland wetland. The 1.797 square kilometers that make up Ungok Wetland were formed as a result of being surrounded by mountains on all sides. Water collected in the middle of the land, causing new life to emerge. Today, the Ungok Wetland is also a habitat for numerous legally protected living creatures such as the buzzard, otter, and kestrel.

▲Dolmen in Gochang region

The World Heritage Goindol (dolmen) village, the 2000 installment, is a must-see tourist attraction in Gochang. “Gochang County has the largest number of dolmens throughout the world,” writes the county’s official website. “More than 1,600 dolmens have been discovered to this day.”

Dosan Village (three kilometers west of Gochang-eup) and Maesan Village (1.2 kilometers west of Dosan) are two of the world’s largest dolmen-concentrated regions. Visitors to the villages, accordingly, can have a glimpse of changing history through diverse types of dolmens. Standing in front of the large stones dotted sparsely throughout the farmlands, one can almost picture the scenes that would have unfolded during prehistoric times, when tribes would have set up a dolmen in respect of a deceased chief.

Seonunsan Provincial Park has been one of the most popular tourist sites in southwestern Korea. Mt. Seonunsan represents Dosolsan (336 meters), but in a wider sense, refers to all the peaks and ridges within the park. The park is considered a perfect site for hiking and trekking since the mountain peaks along the ridgeline are at similar heights at 300-400 meters. While hiking, the views of valleys at every hidden corner and mysterious rocks as well as islands dotted all throughout the West Coast add to the breathtaking vistas.

New sites in the Asia Pacific added to UNESCO’s World Biosphere Reserve Network also include Alakol of Kazakhstan. Great Nicobar of India, Snake Island of China and Ziarat Juniper Forest of Pakistan. These are the five new sites in the Asia Pacific that have been recently added to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

The International Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB), which met in Paris from 27 to 30 May, has added 12 sites worldwide to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. The additions bring the total number of biosphere reserves to 621 in 117 countries.

Biosphere Reserves are sites chosen by the MAB Programme to experiment with different approaches to the management of terrestrial, marine and coastal resources as well as fresh water. They also serve as laboratories for sustainable development. k

이경식 기자  edt@koreapost.com

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