Nature’s beauty in a serene worldCHANGNYEONG, South Gyeongsang ― Swamps can evoke a dark and dismal image, raising primal fears that once you set foot there, you may be completely locked in for good with creatures like, say, an anaconda. But the Upo Swamp in Changnyeong, South Gyeongsang province, is different. This swamp, in a small farming town in the southeast of the peninsula, is host to a rich ecosystem.
In this case, the swamp displays a healthy ecological system where rare species gather, living in harmony and peace, like a small universe. No wonder Upo Swamp has been a tourist attraction for Koreans.
The moment visitors step into the swamp area, they are captivated by the mysterious aura of the place. There are no monstrous creatures, only chirping white herons during the mating season. In another area, a flock of geese waddles over the feathers of common herons that were eaten by eagle owls. Elsewhere, a group of willow trees bend their branches toward the ground, making the swamp a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the outside universe.
Upo is the biggest swamp in Korea, measuring about 210,000 square meters (52 acres). The compound consists of four small swamps called Upo, Mokpo, Sajipo and Jjokjibeol.
The water courses are connected among the four swamps, divided by embankments. The swamp is not very deep, however: The water’s depth never exceeds the height of an average adult, except during the monsoon season.
The shallowness of the water allows the sunshine to reach every nook and cranny of the swamp, which encourages the growth of water plants all the way from the bottom to the surface of the water. Beginning in June, the thick layer of plants covers the entire area, making the swamp look like a vast grassland.
The water in the swamp doesn’t stagnate, however, because its shallowness means that it is affected by wind currents. The water of the swamp thus flows all year long, providing a healthy environment for all forms of life.
Spring and summer are the right times to visit the Upo Swamp, especially now, when everything is beginning to come alive. In the springtime, given the large difference in temperatures between day and night, fog covers the area, creating a mystical atmosphere.
The swamp is home to more than 300 types of animals and plants, many of them rare species. Especially rich in water plants, the swamp offers a favorable environment for fish, which has led to the saying that the Upo Swamp is half water and half fish.
Of course, the swamp is a very good place for fishing, yet only 15 designated fishermen have obtained a license to fish in the swamp, which is under the legal protection of the government.
The fishermen have their own particular way of carrying out their activity. Going out in small wooden boats, they just tap the bottom of the swamp here and there with a long wooden pole. That tapping shocks the fish, which then move to the bottom of the swamp, only to be caught with a specially designed woven bamboo “net” by the fishermen.
The general public is not allowed to even touch a single plant or animal at the swamp, however, since the government designated it a natural site that must be preserved. Yet visitors can still enjoy watching the fishermen do their work, which in itself is a picture-perfect scene to remember.
The history of the Upo Swamp dates back 140 million years to the Cretaceous period, when the site first started as a lake. The lake eventually turned into a swamp, and it is slowly but gradually turning into grassland, following the accumulation of minerals and organic matter.
A map made in 1918 shows that the area of today’s Upo Swamp contained 98 small and large swamps, but that number is now down to four. Experts say this swamp area will be in existence for only 300 more years.
There’s nothing much that human beings can do about this course of nature, so it seems best to just enjoy it while it’s there.
by Choi Hyeon-chul
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