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[Op-Ed] Mud Flats

Posted August. 31, 2009 07:33,   


French mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot in 1967 published the article “How Long is the Coast of Britain?” in Science magazine. He posed this question not because he did not know the answer, but instead wanted to show the huge difference in the length of the coast when measured with a one meter-long ruler and a one centimeter-long ruler. By showing that a meandering coast consists of the same shape of small rugged coastlines, he proposed a “fractal” theory.

Korea’s west coast has a representative fractal pattern. The overall coastline is a repeat of the same shape of tiny meanders. Such a complex and jagged coast is called a rias coast. The shape of the west coast is changing, however. According to the National Institute of Environmental Research, the length of the west coast declined 40.27 percent to 1,448 kilometers from 2,148 kilometers in 1910. The curve ratio, which shows how indented a coastline is, dropped to 4.47 from 8.16 over the same period. A zero curve ratio means a straight coastline.

The west coast is good for land reclamation because it has a host of islands, huge differences between the ebb and flow of the tide, and vast mud flats. For this reason, massive land reclamation projects have been carried out in New Songdo City, Asan, Sihwa, and Saemangeum, resulting in straight coastlines. When the country suffered from a food shortage, land reclamation projects served as an economic growth engine by providing land for both rice farming and water. Since Korea has a rice surplus, however, land reclamation for rice farming is no longer necessary. In the Saemangeum reclamation project, for example, the ratio of farmland was cut to 30 percent from 70 percent in July. Instead, reclamation projects seek to build cities on the west coast near metropolitan areas.

As the people’s livelihood has stabilized and more pursue a higher quality of life, Koreans have begun recognizing the value of mud flats. Mud flats are valuable ecosystem and habitat for marine life such as fish, shells and seabirds. They protect the environment from pollution and natural disasters. Mud flats have also become popular tourist destinations due to their scenic beauty. To utilize such advantages, Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany began tearing down sea dikes to restore mud flats. Hopefully, Korea will pay more attention to preserving its beautiful coastlines.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)