Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What is the DMZ’s value as an ecological resource?

While the four-kilometer-wide, 250-kilometer-long Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) ─ the border zone between North and South Korea ─ may be a deadly place for humans, its lack of population has inadvertently turned it into a nature preserve now recognized as one of the most well-preserved areas of temperate habitat in the world. Endangered species including two of the world's most endangered birds, the white-naped and the red-crowned cranes, as well as the very rare Asiatic black bear, Chinese gorhal, Eurasian lynx and egret, all find refuge in the heavily fortified border zone. The DMZ is also believed to house Korean tigers, a subspecies of the Siberian tiger, one of the rarest tigers on the planet, as well as the Amur leopard, a critically endangered species with an estimated 35 to 45 individuals remaining in the wild.

Biodiversity in the last remaining Cold War-style frontier on the planet is largely encouraged by the various habitats within the narrow strip, including mountains, prairies, swamps, lakes and tidal marshes. Some 2,900 plant species and 70 mammal species are believed to reside in the DMZ, with more than 20,000 migratory fowl of about 320 species traveling in and out of the border area. All these animals manage to maneuver around the land mines installed there ─ although by now, some may be too old to be active.

South Korea has called the DMZ a priority ecosystem, and the DMZ Forum, DMZ Vets and the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM) are encouraging Korea to declare the area a "biodiversity zone." As monumental a figure as Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, has said, "The DMZ needs to be designated as a World Heritage Site and as a World Peace Park site," which would ensure that dozens of species unique to the area are preserved along with its history.

Currently, the government is planning to make the DMZ an ecology and peace zone to attract visitors from around the world. As part of this plan, the government will pursue the construction of a bicycle road traveling east to west, the attraction of a UN peace conference hall, and, last but not least, designation of the DMZ as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

USA Today
"Eco-Peace Belt built in DMZ," Hankook Ilbo, Dec. 3, 2009. (in Korean)
DMZ Forum: Collaborative international NGO focusing on promoting peace and conservation within the Korean DMZ region
"Status and ecological resource value of the Republic of Korea's De-militarized Zone," Kwi-Gon Kim and Dong-Gil Cho, Department of Landscape Architecture, Seoul National University, 2005.

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