[Outlook]Giving the land back to the sea

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[Outlook]Giving the land back to the sea

An elderly man just home from the fields takes the load from his shoulders and approaches the stage in the yard, feeling his way with a stick. I get a nervous sensation, wondering what this humble-looking fellow will be able to do on the stage.

As he takes to the platform, he says, “I learned traditional songs while carrying firewood on my back. I’m just an ordinary man, but I will put on a show to express my gratitude.” It does not take long before I am bewitched by his singing.

This field in Daeheungpo, Sopo-ri in South Jeolla Province’s Jindo, is dreaming of resurrection. This all used to be tidal land; it was reclaimed some 30 years ago and turned into rice paddies.

Residents of the village carried the stones necessary for the project on their backs, and their hopes and agonies are still vivid in the area. They worked until their bodies ached, because if seawater seeps into the paddies, the land is ruined. The memory of their struggle remains, and now these fields are to be buried under the sea.

But like the songs of the traditional singers who turn death into resurrection, the Daeheungpo paddies will be resurrected as tidal flats when the seawater rushes in. Residents now talk about the transformation of their village.

Why is this transformation project taking place in Jindo, of all places? There are many places where land has been reclaimed from the sea, so why is so much attention being paid to Jindo? As the oceanographer Chun Seung-soo pointed out, how much of the ocean environment will be restored just because a few acres of rice paddies are turned back into tidal land? In other reclaimed areas, residents left after they received compensation, and not much remains.

Despite these suspicions, Sopo-ri represents many good opportunities. It still has an active community. The residents share pride in the fact that their town is the birthplace of the traditional music of the southern part of the country. The village has energy and the potential for change, as exemplified by the head of the elderly people’s association, the leader of the village and the director of an institute to preserve traditional culture.

Village heads are well aware that the community may collapse if they hand their land over to outsiders.

But an ocean park can be built in the Daeheungpo paddies in the tidal flats. And a freshwater lake behind the Shimi Port has the potential to be used as a park. Sopo-ri has a rich storytelling history, as the folklorist Kim Mi-kyeong says. In the Ulim sanbang, or studio, there are the gardens and traditional houses that were used as the setting for the Korean movie “The Scandal.”

With all of its sights, sounds and tastes, Jindo is in a great position to become a tourist destination.

If the site to be restored is too large, it is difficult to analyze the costs entailed. But the site in Daehung-ri is just the right size. If it were too close to big cities, it would be unattractive but Jindo works out well in this department as well.

What’s left to think about is how to properly make use of the opportunities the region holds. The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs selected Daeheungpo as a perfect place to restore tidal land.

The office of Jindo County is interested in developing local communities through means other than regulations - that is, through funding. An environmental fund plans to sign memoranda of understanding and release a plan to transform the rice paddies into tidal land.

In order to move forward in the proper manner, the concerned institutions should consult with one another to decide how local residents can contribute to a fund, how it can attract donations from other parts of the country and how to get the government to use its budget on the project. It takes five to 10 years for the ecosystem in tidal land to revive.

As the environmental expert Kim Ji-hyun has pointed out, means of income must be devised for residents who entrust their land to others. Youn Yeo-chang, a professor at Seoul National University, and a foreign professor who attended a workshop about the project, advised that the costs and benefits of tidal land and farmland must be compared and a vision must be presented to the residents.

Current law makes it difficult to manage an area designated to be protected, because it is based on orders and regulations.

The oceanographer Je Jong-kil laments the difficulties that ecotourism entails. People involved in the project must reach an agreement on how they should use the area.

When managing and using preserved land, the current law can be referred to temporarily, but ultimately a community model should be pursued.

*The writer is the representative of the National Nature Trust. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Chun Jae-kyung
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