- International experts in conservation and heritage spoke at the Jeju World Heritage Global Forum to mark a decade since Jeju was listed as a UNESCO site
The Jeju World Heritage Global Forum was held at the Lotte City Hotel Jeju, Sept. 11 to 14, to mark 10 years since Jeju was confirmed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007 at the 31st Session of the World Heritage Committee in Christchurch, New Zealand.
In a keynote speech on Sept. 11, Tim Badman, current director of the IUCN World Heritage Program, described himself as the “midwife” of Jeju’s inscription after personally giving the IUCN recommendation to the World Heritage Committee.
“I feel that Jeju was born on the World Heritage list in 2007, and I was there sort of helping the birth to happen,” Badman said to The Weekly.
The Englishman said that Jeju not only has a special place in his heart but is “one of the most special places in the IUCN’s history.” Following the inscription of three local sites — Geomun Oreum Lava Tube System, Seongsan Ilchulbong tuff cone, and Mt. Hallasan — Badman said that Jeju has “truly sought to demonstrate what being a World Heritage site should mean.”
“Some sites’ efforts seem to stop at inscription on the list but in Jeju we’ve seen incredible devotion and investment to implementing World Heritage,” he said. “If every site on the World Heritage list behaved like that we’d have much more effective protection.”
This engagement includes the IUCN World Conservation Congress held at the ICC Jeju in 2012, and hosting the inaugural IUCN World Leaders Conservation Forum in 2015, the second of which will be held next year. Progress is also being made on establishing a UNESCO Category 2 Center on the island for training and research. Badman said that such commitment is rare and he believes the island’s self-governing status is crucial.
“It is both a national role and it is a project that is owned locally. I think Jeju must see benefits coming from its association with UNESCO and international work. There is every evidence that the commitment to sustainable living is a very real one that just seems to keep growing,” he said.
Another thing that keeps growing is the number of international designations on Jeju. In addition to UNESCO World Heritage status, the island is the only location worldwide to also be a Biosphere Reserve (2002), a Global Geopark (2010), and boast Ramsar wetlands of international importance (2006-2015).
Jeju is not stopping there. The Forum also included a presentation by Professor Woo Kyung Sik of Kangwon National University on potential additional World Heritage sites on Jeju.
Woo told the Weekly that as the existing Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes listing meets the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) criteria, it should be relatively straightforward to add three additional caves in the Geomun Oreum lava tube system, Suwolbong Tuff Cone and Socheongul Cave as World Heritage sites.
However, back in 2005 experts were not so sure that Jeju, and particularly Mt. Hallasan, displayed the OUV required. Although this left some locals downhearted, said Woo, the island gods were looking on, and some local workmen on a routine job eventually struck UNESCO gold in Gujwa-eup.
“The electric company tried to put a pole into the ground and they discovered this cave accidentally,” said Woo.
The hole that opened up beneath the workmen’s feet was not full of precious metals, but rare colorful carbonate minerals. It was Yongcheongul Cave, said Woo, part of the Geomun Oreum lava tube system, and it was crucial in securing Jeju’s World Heritage nomination two years later.
Woo said that the rarity of the newly discovered caves allowed Jeju to draw up a serial bid which included Mt. Hallasan and Seongsan Ilchulbong tuff cone: “If applied for individually, each site would have to display OUV, but by making a serial nomination we were able to have a combined OUV,” he said.
Alongside the celebrations at the Forum, there was also plenty of reflection on the challenges that World Heritage has brought to the island. One such challenge is balancing development and conservation while also seeking international recognition through the UNESCO brand.
Lee Jaesoo, senior researcher with the Korea Environment Institute, told The Weekly that as a tourism island, Jeju must be careful not to prioritize marketing over conservation.
“It is a big problem. Like in Germany, we should have only one brand, like the national park, which is first and the others second,” said Lee. “If someplace is designated as a national park, then the national park must be in front of the other titles, but usually, as you can see in Jeju, the IUCN and others are first.”
Lee would like to see more integration of the various designations to improve management and public awareness, and this is an area that was specifically discussed at an IUCN expert workshop on Jeju from September 15 to 16 at the Ramada Plaza Hotel Jeju.
“In recent days, we have started to have some integrated measures through the multi-internationally designated areas project, but this can take a long time,” said Lee.
Whether it will take another 10 years remains to be seen, but Jeju’s ongoing work with the IUCN and UNESCO suggests that there is a push towards qualitative improvements over additional titles. More than one delegate at the Forum spoke regretfully about the 2011 New7Wonders of Nature debacle, a discredited poll that exemplifies the danger of promoting brands over conservation policies.
Professor Woo was adamant that 10 years on from UNESCO designation, Jeju must now turn inwards to focus on sustainable tourism and conservation policies rather than more international accolades.
“I don’t think they need any more crowns. No more crowns,” he said.
Darren Southcott 기자 email@example.com