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Suncheon: Korea’s ecological capital

Written by Dmytro Makarov

Suncheon, located in South Jeolla Province, is known for the Suncheon Bay Wetland Reserve and other rich ecological reserves and traditional cultural assets, including Seonam Temple.

Suncheon City Hall has launched a “Visit Suncheon Year” campaign this year in Suncheon, a southwestern city known as South Korea’s center of ecology, aiming to attract 10 million tourists.

In the first half of this year, 4.47 million people visited Suncheon, about 415 kilometers south of Seoul, while Suncheon Bay National Garden, the first of its kind and the largest artificial garden in Korea, drew about 3 million visitors by July 3this year.

A variety of food produced from the clean area is expected to add to the pleasure of visiting Suncheon, municipal officials said, forecasting further growth in tourist arrivals in the second half. The growing number of tourists is expected to further elevate Suncheon’s status as a global ecological hub and South Korea’s ecological capital.

Suncheon gained international fame in 2006 when Suncheon Bay, a coastal wetland featuring wide tideland, fields of reeds, salt swamps and habitat for migratory birds, became the first Korean coastal wetland to be included in the Ramsar list of protected wetlands.

In 2018, the entire city, including Suncheon Bay and Suncheon Bay Ecological Park, was designated as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO.

Back in the 1990s, Suncheon Bay was an abandoned wetland where the Dongcheon estuary featuring vast reed fields and a variety of wetland organisms and animals was located.

The bay drew public attention in 1993 when a private developer’s project to extract marine aggregates became known.

The project was halted due to objections from citizens and environmental activists wanting to preserve the bay’s reed fields. Following an ecological survey in 1996, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries designated Suncheon Bay as a wetland preserve in 2003.

The hooded crane, one of the most endangered species in Korea and state-designated natural monument No. 228, was first spotted in Suncheon Bay in 1996, and as many as 2,176 hooded cranes visited the area last year alone.

With Suncheon Bay growing popular as an ecotourism destination, tourists have flocked there in increasing numbers.

The city hosted the Suncheon Bay Garden Expo and created Suncheon Bay National Garden in order to better preserve the Suncheon Bay Wetland Reserve.

Government heads of 18 areas in seven countries where Ramsar sites are located plan to hold a global conference in Suncheon from Oct. 23-25.

Seonam Temple on Mount Jogye in Suncheon was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in June last year. The temple is known for Seungseon Bridge, which is designated as National Treasure No. 400 and is said to be Korea’s most beautiful arched stone bridge.

Naganeupseong Folk Village, designated historical site No. 302, is a well-preserved town castle of the Joseon Dynasty, featuring straw roof houses and daily dwellings indigenous to the southern area with kitchen areas, clay rooms and Korean-style verandas.

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Dmytro Makarov