Lonely, yet teeming with lifeKoreans consider Dokdo island important for diplomatic and strategic reasons, but what few realize is that the island in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) is significant for the wealth of environmental and ecological information it holds.
Dokdo is located 87.4 kilometers (54.3 miles) from the South Korean island of Ulleung and 157.5 kilometers from Japan’s Oki islands. It has two main islands, which are the remains of an ancient volcanic crater, and 78 smaller “rock” islands and reefs, for a total surface area of about 56 acres.
The Korean government designated Dokdo as the nation’s 336th natural monument in 1982, saying that it should be protected because of its value as natural breeding grounds. Until recently, individuals were not allowed near Dokdo, so few nature studies were conducted there.
“Until now, ornithology studies on Dokdo have been conducted haphazardly. More long-term, systematic research should be done, because right now, we are like blind men groping at only a part of an elephant,” said Kwon Young-soo, a biology professor at Kyunghee University.
The JoongAng Ilbo and KT recently sponsored an environmental study of Dokdo and found that the island is far from lonely. Dokdo has 69 species of plants, with most flora and fauna living on the volcanic islands.
Although some types of trees grow together, most grow independently because of the steep slopes and lack of soil moisture.
The soil is dry because rain runs down the slopes instead of seeping into the ground, so small plants that survive on Dokdo are the hardy sort, able to withstand harsh weather conditions such as sea winds, droughts and low temperatures.
Dokdo may appear to be isolated because it is 200 kilometers out in the ocean from the mainland, but it is actually a very busy host, to birds in particular. Every year, flocks of birds visit, especially in the spring and autumn. To some, it is a breeding ground; to others, a mid-point rest area.
The island is occupied by 129 species of birds, including a number of protected species, such as the black kite, the osprey and the pelagic cormorant. Various migratory birds also rest there before traveling farther south or north.
Dokdo’s geographical position, where the North Korean cold current moving south and warm Tsushima current moving north meet, also makes it an important case study for marine life. This meeting of crosscurrents results in 86 species of plankton and abundant numbers of migratory fish, which provide a bounty for fishers, who catch salmon, cod, trout, squid, shark and abalone.
by Special Reporting Team