Korea & US raise global profile of marine conservation with a decade of cooperation

Marine conservation experts and officials gathered at the Korean embassy in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, June 12, to discuss how years of Korea-US cooperation has lead to a new level of global awareness for ocean and coastal environmental issues, with major milestones this year including Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea and the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) World Conservation Congress in Korea this fall.

Mary Beth West, Director of the IUCN Washington D.C. Office Photo: IUCN

Protecting our Marine Places: A Shared Korea-US Vision for Conservation and Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea, a KORUS Forum event hosted at the Korean Cultural Center, featured speakers from the Korean and U.S. governments, as well as international organizations.

“Korea and the U.S. are playing a key role in promoting a rising sense of environmental responsibility for the oceans,” says Mary Beth West, Director of the IUCN Washington D.C. Office. “This vision has led, among other things, to the opening of the Expo2012 Yeosu Korea.”   The Korea-US Joint Project Agreement, a partnership between Korea’s Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs (MLTM) and the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) established in 2001, has facilitated an increasingly broad exchange of scientific data, research methods, training, and collaborative projects between the two countries for more than a decade. The relationship has helped MLTM raise public awareness of and support for marine conservation in Korea, including the establishment of 16 Marine Protected Areas (MPA), with more being added each year.   “We learned from the US the ways of designating an MPA and the process, but also the important ways of persuade local people, which can be difficult,” says Heuijin Ji, Director General for MLTM and senior liaison to NOAA. “I think that is one of the best ideas we learned from the US… We have to have a logical basis to persuade people, and we learned the methodology to research that.”   This year, Korea plays host to two major international events that build on this trend: the Yeosu Expo, a three-month world’s fair built around the theme of The Living Ocean and Coast, and the World Conservation Congress organized by IUCN, bringing world scientists to Korea’s southern island of Jeju with the goal of forming consensus on steps nations can and should take to protect oceans and coastal areas.   “Because most oceans issues, by their very nature, cross international boundaries, the international community must come together to build consensus on actions to be taken. The Yeosu Expo can contribute immeasurably to this process,” says West.   Aside from its appeal to tourists, including international and theme pavilions, marine life parks, daily performances, and the “Big-O” water screen and light show, the expo has as an underlying goal the protection of coastal economies, which can suffer during changing times.   “Although the expo will present a model of balanced regional development, the economy of Yeosu is based on fishing and industries along the coast, which have been gradually declining,” says Ji. “The expo can provide a regional progress model by improving sustainable tourism along with the preservation of the marine environment.”    James Delgado, Director of NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program, echoed concerns about the effects of development, pollution, overfishing, and natural events on coastal and marine ecosystems. “Some of these impacts can include failing fish populations, bleached corals, threatened or endangered species, or limited job opportunities,” says Delgado. “MPAs are one type of ocean management tool that, when used effectively, help ensure healthy oceans. They may also protect historic artifacts such as shipwrecks that could otherwise be damaged by handling or theft.”   This year, in addition to 34 joint activities being conducted under the Joint Project Agreement, ONMS will begin sharing lessons and processes learned through its MPA training and program with other nations. In Yeosu, the US presence and commitment is a major one, with greeting messages from Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and President Obama, highlights on Korea-US collaborative projects, and help from 40 bilingual American student ambassadors welcome and guide guests at the USA Pavilion.   “We’ve learned a great deal from our Korean colleagues… as we’ve gotten to know one another,” says Delgado. “We are united by an ocean that defines our planet, but we are also united in our concern, our care, our approach, and in an ongoing commitment. And that has been a very gratifying experience that we hope to see grow.”

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