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[Opinion] Changwon Declaration and Ecotourism

Posted November. 05, 2008 08:28,   


Japan’s highland marsh Oze Swamp is located in an upland region rising 1,400 to 1,700 meters above sea level. The swamp straddling the three Japanese prefectures of Niigata, Gunma and Fukushima was once on the verge of destruction due to dam and road construction. The strenuous efforts of environmentalists, however, have transformed the swamp into an ecological museum. The rich ecosystem, home to some 980 rare species, attracts 650,000 tourists every year. To minimize damage to the environment, authorities refrained from building artificial facilities except wooden passages installed over the marsh and observation desks. Every household in the small neighboring town of Katashina with a population of 6,000 earns an annual income of 400 million won (313,000 U.S. dollars) from ecotourism.

Australian wine manufacturer Hardy Wine bought in 1994 Banrock Station Wetland near the Murray River and started growing grapes. The swamp, which is home to indigenous birds spanning 150 species, draws some 100,000 visitors every year. In addition to tourism money, Hardy rakes in profits from wine sales by exploiting ecotourism’s clean image as a marketing tool.

Ecotourism accounts for seven percent of the global tourism market and is expanding at an annual rate of 10-20 percent. According to the International Ecotourism Society, more than 60 million migratory bird watchers in North and South America spend 20 billion dollars a year. A tourist visiting Costa Rica, a country renowned for ecotourism, spends 1,000 dollars, 2.5 times more than a tourist in France, according to a study.

The 10th general assembly of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands held under the theme “Healthy Wetlands, Healthy People” ended its eight-day run in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province. With the slogan “The people’s welfare depends on wetlands,” the convention adopted the “Changwon Declaration” and the “Rice Paddy Wetland Resolution,” which recognizes rice paddies not only as important food sources but also as a treasure trove of biodiversity. Many say the Changwon general assembly, the largest in its history in the number of participating countries and content, has significantly raised the quality of the Ramsar Convention. Drawing international attention to Korea’s Upo Swamp and Suncheon Bay is another achievement of the convention. Over the eight-day period, some 450,000 people visited Upo Swamp, and a record 300,000 people visited Suncheon Bay over the weekend looking for reed, migratory birds and mudflats. Now is the time to develop ecotourism, which not only protects nature but also provides income for residents.

Editorial Writer Huh Mun-myeong (angelhuh@donga.com)