Go to contents

`Natural Paradise` Wetland Thrives at Mouth of the Han

Posted January. 15, 2009 08:34,   


Amid freezing winds and temperatures dipping to minus 10 degrees Celsius, a Dong-A Ilbo reporter visited a wetland at the mouth of the Han River Monday morning.

As soon as the vehicle carrying the reporter began driving slowly along the riverbank, a pair of elks was found below a barbed wired fence. Though noise from cars barreling down the freeway was louder, they leisurely grazed as if they knew no humans could go there.

Though they noticed the vehicle, they stared at it rather than running away.

The male elk with protruding dogteeth gazed at the car as if posing for a photograph. When the reporter approached, however, the pair hopped a couple of times and darted into the grove of willow trees.

Several white-naped cranes, which are protected as an endangered species, reared their heads to watch out when their feast at a rice paddy was interrupted by the reporter.

The wetland at the mouth of the Han River is a preserve for military facilities. Because the area is cordoned off by barbed wire, flora and fauna have remained intact.

Double barbed wire fences were erected in 1970 to ward off North Korean spies after North Korean commandos infiltrated Seoul in 1968. The fences have brought peace to endangered species such as white-naped cranes, white-tailed eagles and black kites.

But the peace is being threatened by massive property development in the Seoul suburbs of Goyang and Gimpo and growing calls to remove the fences for free access to the wetland.

Military authorities had opposed pulling down the wires but accepted the demand Dec. 17 last year after the development of state-of-the-art surveillance equipment to replace the wires.

Hence, the removal of wire fences stretching 12.9 kilometers in Goyang and 9.7 kilometers in Gimpo will begin in April.

The wetland is also home to winter migratory birds such as white-naped cranes and bean geese.

White-naped cranes fly from Siberia and stop over here in winter. Some 100 of them spend winter in the wetland.

Hundreds of bean geese have been engrossed in catching fish. Some 10,000 bean geese are estimated to live here, the most for a habitat in Korea. Some 70 bird species, including migratory birds, were found to inhabit the wetland.

With no wild beasts such as tigers and bears, wildcats are the top predators in the food chain. Weasels, raccoons and boa constrictors are also seen.

The diversity of plant life, however, is higher than that of animals.

Along with willow trees that mostly thrive in wetlands, some 160 plant species are growing in the wild here.

Though the isolated wetland is the ideal habitat for many animals and plants, it is not free from trouble. In the rainy season, the area is covered by a pile of waste floating from the upper stream. Foreign plant species are also damaging the environment.

The native plant species “saeseommaejagi,” a favorite food for winter migratory birds, once thrived here but has disappeared due to waste that began piling up seven or eight years ago.