Nature Ramble

How wildlife is thriving in the Korean peninsula’s demilitarised zone

The forces that lock humans out of the DMZ have allowed other species to thrive. Could a remnant of violent conflict become the symbol of a greener, more peaceful future?

Manchurian cranes with their distinctive black and white feathers fly low over fields in Chulwon valley, just south of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Photograph: AP

DMZ

A thin green ribbon threads its way across the Korean Peninsula. Viewed from space, via composite satellite images, the winding swath clearly demarcates the political boundary between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Its visual impact is especially strong in the west, where it separates the gray, concrete sprawl of Seoul from the brown, deforested wastes south of Kaesong. In the east, it merges with the greener landscapes of the Taebaek Mountain Range and all but disappears.

Amur leopard cat, Prionailurus bengalensis euptilurus - Image: Scientific American

From the ground, the narrow verdant band manifests as an impenetrable barrier of overgrown vegetation enclosed by layers of fences topped by menacing concertina wire and dotted with observation posts manned by heavily armed soldiers. That a place so steeped in violence still teems with life seems unimaginable. And yet, the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, is home to thousands of species that are extinct or endangered elsewhere on the peninsula. It is the last haven for many of these plants and animals and the centre of attention for those intent on preserving Korea’s rich ecological heritage.

Once known as the “land of embroidered rivers and mountains”, the Korean Peninsula has experienced almost continual conflict for over 100 years, resulting in a severely degraded natural environment. International competition for control over the peninsula’s resources left Korea in a precarious position at the start of the twentieth century. The Japanese occupation between 1905 and 1945 brought with it radically increased exploitation of mineral and other resources, resulting in massive deforestation, pollution and general environmental decline.

Since at least the 1940s, deforestation for fuel wood and clearing for agricultural land has caused significant erosion of the area’s mountains and hills and contributed to the siltation of its rivers, streams and lakes. The 1950 to 1953 war ranged across the entire peninsula, subjecting it to widespread devastation that destroyed cities, roads, forests and even mountains. And, in the 1960s and 1970s, unchecked industrialisation further undermined the peninsula’s ecological health, causing air, water, and soil pollution.

The relative health of the DMZ now stands in stark contrast to the failing ecosystems in both North and South Korea.

White Napped Crane - Image: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

Created in 1953 during tense armistice negotiations, Korea’s DMZ is at once one of the most dangerous places on earth and one of the safest. For humans, its thousands of landmines and the millions of soldiers arrayed along its edges pose an imminent threat. But the same forces that prevent humans from moving within the nearly 400 square miles of the DMZ encourage other species to thrive. Manchurian or red-crowned cranes and white-naped cranes are among the DMZ’s most famous and visible denizens. Nearly 100 species of fish, perhaps 45 types of amphibians and reptiles and over 1,000 different insect species are also supposed to exist in the protected zone.

Scientists estimate that over 1,600 types of vascular plants and more than 300 species of mushrooms, fungi and lichen are thriving in the DMZ. Mammals such as the rare Amur goral, Asiatic black bear, musk deer and spotted seal inhabit the DMZ’s land and marine ecosystems. There are even reports of tigers, believed extinct on the peninsula since before Japanese occupation, roaming the DMZ’s mountains.

Much of the biodiversity in the DMZ is speculative, extrapolated from spotty scientific studies conducted in the Civilian Control Zone (CCZ) that forms an additional protective barrier along the DMZ’s southern edge. Approximate though these studies are, the DMZ’s ecological promise is great enough to spur many people to action.

Source: The Guardian Read more

South Korea Seeks to Protect Endangered Species in Demilitarized Zone

Advertisements

Be green, say something

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: