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Engagement through Nature

On May 17th 2019 the Briefing “Environment Conservation and Cooperation on the Korean Peninsula – Engagement through Nature” took place at the Courtyard Seoul Namdaemun. It was jointly hosted by East Asian – Australasian Flyway Partnership, Ramsar Regional Centre – East Asia and Hanns Seidel Foundation Korea.

Opening speech given by Suh Seung-Oh

The MC Yeobin opened the meeting and introduced the different speakers before the opening speech was given by Suh Seung-Oh from Ramsar Regional Centre – East Asia. After welcoming the audience, he moved on to talk about how environmental destruction is a global problem. Not even the Korean Peninsula is spared from the natural and man-caused destruction of the environment. However, the common cause, saving the environment, led to international environmental cooperation. Projects in the DPRK, e.g. wetland conservation helped the country establish international cooperation. It even joined the Ramsar Convention. The country therefore contributes to wetlands not only a national, but also a transnational scale. The importance of the briefing was to share information on past and on-going projects in relation to the Korean Peninsula, in particular to DPRK.

After the opening a group photo of the speakers and participants was taken.

Felix Glenk from HSF on the topic of cooperation with DPRK

Conservation and cooperation with North Korea

Felix Glenk from Hanns Seidel Foundation was the first speaker. He started with the introduction of the Hanns Seidel Foundation, which has been active in ROK since 1987 and in DPRK since 2013. Next, Mr. Glenk talked about different projects in DPRK, like the HSF forestry project and the conservation and wise use of wetlands in DPRK. He finished his presentation by naming reasons for why all this work matters. It is, for example, a way to build trusts through dialogues and exchanges and to depoliticize the contacts of the Korean nations.

Dr. David Melville on the topic of migratory birds in North Korea

The West Coast of North Korea – Lessons from the visit in May 2019

The second speaker was Dr. David Melville from Pukorokoro Miranda Naturalist’s Trust. Dr. Melville began his presentation with the introduction of the Pukorokoro Miranda Naturalist’s Trust, which is an NGO founded in New Zealand. Its focus are shorebirds, which also include migrating birds migrating to the Yellow Sea. The NGO’s project included a survey on shorebird along the DPRK’s West Coast. The partner organization for this project is NCUK. The birds were counted at high tide roosts and all results have been published, which also led to an international exposure of DPRK scientists. Thanks to satellite tagging it is possible to get information on changing migratory strategies and patterns of distribution. This year, the NGO was given the opportunity to give classes in middle schools in Pyongyang. Even though the NGO has limited resources, it was already established great plans for the future, including the publication of the final report, capacity building and additional surveys. At the end of his speech Dr. Melville put an emphasis on how important good communication between all international organizations working in DPRK is.

During the short coffee break a short film about shorebirds in DPRK was shown.

Dr. Nial Morres about Rason and Songbong Migratory Bird Reserve

The East Coast of North Korea – Lessons from the Visit in March 2019

After the coffee break the third speaker followed. It was Dr. Nial Moores from Birds Korea. The focus of his presentation was not on West Coast of North Korea but on the country’s East Coast which he visited in March 2019. He began his speech with the mention of the first ever birdwatching tour in DPRK. Bird migration links nations. Dr. Moores was thankful to HSF for funding wetlands projects in DPRK. Rason, in the North of DPRK, is a special economic zone with outstanding wetlands. Songbong Migratory Bird Reserve is a Ramsar Site since last year and what is most striking about the Rason area is the sea with its large amount of birds, which leads to the conclusion that the sea ecosystem must be quite healthy. However, there are development pressures on Rason since it is a special economic zone. Wetlands are being turned into fish pounds and sea cucumber factories. But, are there even alternatives for this development? Yes, there are. There is a huge potential for eco-tourism. Another goal of Bird Korea is to set up a bird area north and south of the border, in Goseong.

Vivian Fu from EAAFP talking about her trip to Mundok

The Case of Mundok – A future Model for Nature Conservation in the DPRK?

Vivian Fu from East Asian – Australasian Flyway Partnership was the fourth speaker of the event. Ms. Fu started her presentation with introducing the East Asian – Australasian Flyway as one of the nine flyways. She then moved on to introducing EAAFP, its partners and its work, especially the Flyway Site Network. Just like Dr. Melville, she pointed out the importance of the Yellow Sea for migratory birds. Kumya Wetlands and Mundok Migratory Birds Reserve are two new sites in DPRK. EAAFP, along with other organizations, visited Mundok in March 2019 to get more information on the monitoring and CEPA (communication, education and public awareness) work at this site. Even though the already existing work is impressive, there is still need for improvement. For example, the equipment needs to be improved. EAAFP plans to provide them with a good book on birds. EAAFP is looking forward to future developments in this area as well as to international cooperation. 

Philippe Pypaert from UNESCO emphasizing the importance of international cooperation

The Work of UNESCO in DPR Korea within the framework of the East Asia Biosphere Reserves Network

Philippe Pypaert from UNESCO was the fifth speaker of the briefing. Mr. Pypaert began his presentation with the statement that is important to promote sustainability beyond nature conservation. He then moved on to introduce the UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserve programme. Today, there are around 700 recognized Biosphere Reserves worldwide. However, one does not become a member of this network of biosphere reserves, to get a name to promote, e.g. tourism. The network exists so that reserves can cooperate with each other, influence each other, learn from each other. The East Asian Biosphere Reserve Network has been existing for 25 years. Mr. Pypaert introduced the network and named examples on the Korean peninsula. At the end of his speech, he once more put an emphasis on how important cooperation between institutions/organization handling destinations is.

Suh Seung-Oh talking about the work of the Ramsar Regional Centre - East Asia

Prospects for Cooperation on the Korean Peninsula

The sixth and final speaker was Suh Seung-Oh from Ramsar Regional Centre – East Asia. He talked about the prospects for cooperation on the Korean Peninsula. After introducing the Ramsar Regional Centre – East Asia, which the DPRK joined in February 2019, he talked about the main areas of work of the center. The Ramsar Regional Centre – East Asia even invited four DPRK site managers to the 7th WLI Asia Conference in Taipei City and Mr. Suh hopes that he will be able to meet them there in December this year.

After all presentations were finished a Q&A section followed. The questions dealt with sanctions, the possibilities of South Korean institutions visiting North Korea and general interest of investors in DPRK. 

The briefing ended around 5:15pm.