(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 29)

Tidal flats as world heritage
More efforts needed to ensure biodiversity conservation

The country’s tidal flats, or “getbol,” have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Natural Heritage list. The World Heritage Committee (WHC) made the decision at its 44th session, which took place online Monday from Fuzhou, China, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The four tidal flats in the listing are the Seocheon Getbol in South Chungcheong Province; Gochang Getbol in North Jeolla Province; and Sinan Getbol and Boseong-Suncheon Getbol in South Jeolla Province. This is the country’s second natural heritage entry after UNESCO designated Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes in 2007.

Located in four separate regions spanning nearly 1,300 square kilometers, an area approximately double the size of Seoul, the tidal flats are known to be stopovers for more than 22 endangered migratory birds and serve as an important biodiversity habitat. Among them are globally threatened species such as the spoon-billed sandpiper and hooded crane.

The inscription came as a bit of surprise as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an advisory body for UNESCO, gave the site a “defer” evaluation in May, stating that the range of the areas was not large enough to show large-scale topographic and ecological processes. Nonetheless, the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) and other concerned authorities joined forces to persuade the WHC’s 21 members to recognize the outstanding universal value of our tidal flats.

Joining the global list of natural heritage sites is certainly welcome news, but a lot of work must be done in relation to this. First of all, it’s imperative to fulfill the WHC’s recommendation that tidal flats at the mouth of the Han River be included in the heritage site, and that an integrated management system be prepared, both for consideration at its 48th session scheduled for 2025. This requires our central and municipal governments to cooperate to ensure the conservation of biodiversity in the tidal flats, while allowing fishermen to keep operating there. They should do their utmost to protect our precious tidal flats recognized by the world and manage them systematically.
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