University Park, Pa. --- The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) once symbolized war andconflict, a 366-square-mile area rigidly separating North and South Koreatotally unhabited by humans. Today, the DMZ may represent a major hope forpeace between the two Koreas.
In the current issue of Science magazine (Oct. 10), Penn State scientistKe Chung Kim, professor of entomology, recommends the official conversion of theDMZ into a system of bioreserves that would offer havens for rare and endangeredspecies of animals and plants, as well as an economic boost for North and SouthKorea.
"The preservation of DMZ ecosystems is basic to Korea's preservation andenvironmental restoration efforts," says Dr. Kim. "The Korean Peace BioreservesSystem that I proposed in 1994 provides a strategy to preserve the DMZ's richbiodiversity that is critical to conservation efforts in Korea. Jointdevelopment of the KPBRS will foster trust, understanding and respect betweenthe Democratic People's Republic Of Korea (DPRK) in the north and the Republicof Korea (ROK) in the south."
Korea's ecosystems and landscapes have been systematically compromisedby aggressive economic development and military buildup along with rapidurbanization, Dr. Kim notes. For example, in South Korea, most naturalecosystems, including large sections of the coastline and salt marshes, havebeen converted into industrial estates and urban centers. Such efforts resultedin severe pollution of waterways and farmlands and destruction of habitats foranimals and insects. In North Korea, rampant deforestation has caused severesoil erosion and flooding, he says.
This massive environmental degradation in both Koreas has led to theloss of plant and animal species in areas outside of the DMZ, says the PennState researcher. "The 1994 biodiversity study showed that 14 percent of birds,23 percent of freshwater fishes and 60 percent of amphibians, for example, havebeen destroyed or endangered."
Because of its isolated status, rare animal and plant species arecurrently found in the DMZ. The ecosystems of the DMZ and a buffer zone, theCivilian Control Zone, provide wintering grounds for two of the world's mostendangered birds: the white-naped crane and the red-crowned crane.
While the ROK government in South Korea has voiced support for thepreservation of the DMZ ecosystems, the Construction-Transportation Ministrythis month announced plans to seek legislation to drastically erase green beltregulations, the result of lobbying by land developers.
Dr. Kim acknowledges the political and economic pressures, saying "TheKorean population of the whole peninsula may reach 100 million by the year 2025,and continued economic development activities will require additionalappropriation of lands and natural resources. But the lack of a commitment topreserving biodiversity in favor of short-term economic development will hurtKorea's economy in the long-term by destroying its natural resources."
Creating a bioreserve system in the DMZ could result in economicopportunities such as international parks for resource conservation andecotourism, like the La Amistad International Park (Biosphere Reserve) betweenCosta Rica and Panama, says the Penn State scientist.
Working together on a joint project to create and manage a Koreanbioreserve system could gradually eliminate the distrust between the twocountries and lead to further collaboration, Dr. Kim suggests.
In late September, the preliminary round of the Korean peace talks hadbroken down. "Environmental issues may be the least provocative way of breakingthe ice," he says.
Over the past two years, Dr. Kim has been talking with groups ofgovernment officials, scientists and other agencies to promote and build supportfor the concept of the Korean Peace Bioreserves Systems not only from bothKorean governments, but also in the United States and througout the world.
"The processing of building Korean Peace Bioreserves System will notonly foster close relationships between the two Koreas, but it also willultimately improve environmental security and nurture cultural revival, thusbuilding human security on the Korean peninsula," he says.
Materials provided by Penn State. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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