Another Saemanguem-style Money-Making Hub: Korean Coastal National Parks

After decades of leaving nature to itself, the government has decided that they need to “develop” Dadohae National Park into a “Northeast Asian Tourist Hub“, complete with new ports for cruise ships, hotels, and condominiums.

This idea of turning a national park into a means of making money is not a new idea. America has its debates regarding those business interests that want the money that tourism brings, however this is often balanced out by those who see the necessity in preserving nature and promoting responsible management. As in a recent NY Times blog “What would you designate (as) a National Park?“, one commenter notes:

Some of the most beautiful and unspoiled areas in the United States are beautiful and unspoiled precisely because they aren’t national parks and thus aren’t overrun with tourists and their dollars.

and another talks of the effect of commercialism upon natural wonders:

Sadly, one of our country’s–and the world’s–most iconic natural wonders missed out on the national park movement of the early 20th Century, and as a result, has been turned into something of a circus sideshow. Could it be restored to it’s natural glory? Who knows. But if any site deserves to be rated a national park, it would be Niagara Falls.

As a direct comparison with the “National Seashore” parks in America, not a single one allows for commercial development as proposed by the Korean Government for the existing parks, rather the goal of the National Park Service in the U.S. is to preserve rather than turn unspoiled areas to profit.

Apparently, based upon how this situation was explained to me, the local residents and government is more so behind this tourism effort and some have talked of having the Unification Church build a hotel in the area as well.

All this begs the question that is yet to be answered: can local government-sponsored tourism co-exist with responsible management of Korea’s natural resources? Considering what has happened at Seamanguem (50-100 year potential money-pit), there is more than a little reason to worry about what will happen if “Canal Fever” and its rush-to-riches zeal spreads to other areas of Korea without any clear centralized vision of Korea’s natural resources other than being mere sources of economic exploitation.

  • The Western Confucian

    I grew up next to Niagara Falls and agree with “circus sideshow” description. People say the Falls are more beautiful from the Canadian side. Of course they are! You’re looking onto the American side!

    But both lose hand down to Iguazú / Iguaçu Falls, which, though not as high, have been left in their natural state and are stunningly beautiful.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    “People say the Falls are more beautiful from the Canadian side. Of course they are! You’re looking onto the American side!”

    Oh, come one. You know they say that because they can see the widest arc of the Horseshoe up close because it’s on the Canadian side.

    In any case, they are going to destroy the park.

    “ports for cruise ships, hotels, and condominiums”?

    Who do they think they are kidding? Do they seriously expect cruise ships to travel to Korea?

  • R. Elgin

    Take a look at the scenery from the park site “Someguy”. It’s very pretty and I would wager that someone has thoughts of a Korean Bali dancing in their heads, much like a Korean Dubai. It could be nice but the BIG question is how far will this reach for the money go — jet skis, fireworks, bonfires, trash, etc. — and how can the main government preserve anything when the local people are intent upon making money, at any cost and the main government is more Chinese than Korean in their drive to achieve goals? There really is not any national oversight, based upon what I am hearing.

    Consider this NY Times article which is an interesting portrayal of Luang Prabang (Laos) and the problems it faces in attempting to preserve its unique culture amid the demands of tourism. The basic gist of it is money = degradation of culture and natural resources.

    The locals down in that part of Korea are having a real problem with floating trash that gets washed ashore. Some gets washed down from mainland rivers and some from China. This is a growing problem that the government here should really get behind; going after trash dumping at the local level because it is really having a negative impact upon coastal areas.

    The main government here seems to have always had a poor record of preserving the nature of Korea and this is a harbinger of things to come, I’m afraid.

  • dokdoforever

    ‘Developing Dadohae’ – what a disaster. 17 years ago Taechon Beach near Boryeong used to be bordered by a wide strip of pine trees and was a beautiful beach. They’ve now built Yugwons 4 blocks deep where the pine trees used to be and it looks and smells exactly like Shinchon on the shore. But, sad to say, some Koreans probably prefer Shinchon on the shore to unspoiled natural beauty. My impression is that I’ve probably met fewer people in Korea who seem to really appreciate nature. Maybe it’s due to a history of more recent economic development, or maybe because most whom I meet are from big cities without much contact with nature. Fewer also seem to appreciate preserving historical areas like that alley in Chongno. Modern convenience is what people appear to value more.

  • globalvillageidiot

    dokdoforever, When it comes down to how the average Korean enjoys his/her vacation time, you nailed it. I used to tell students about how great it was to go to Mallipo/Cheolipo beaches in the mid/late-90s, especially just before or after the prime summer season. Their responses were almost universal: “Boring!” Minus the convenience of Family Mart,excessive fireworks, overpriced seafood, game/PC rooms, or karaoke machines on the beach, Korea’s attractions seemed to hold little attraction to them.

  • R. Elgin

    “global” has a valid observation. Perhaps if a tourism scheme was carefully developed that specifically excluded Korean nationals and focused on foreign tourism, leaving a minimal footprint upon the environment, there could be some benefit to local residents — maybe. Any business would need to be carefully managed by the local government so that get-rich-quick bums would not try move in and set up some business to make money from tourism, so that only local people might benefit, however there is already non-local money involved and there is no real oversight regarding private business other than handing out permits to build. When I read about these sort of things in national parks in America, business usually has a negative impact upon the environment. I do not see Korea as being an exception to this observation whatsoever.

    IMHO, these natural resources should be mostly left alone because anything done will most likely be too much.

  • Pohang

    Let’s face it, Korea is far too insular and self-absorbed to become a hub of anything, and whatever ‘exotic’ Asian qualities Korea might have had are quickly being replaced by sanitized glass buildings housing phone shops and eyeglass stores.

    Any cruise ship worth its salt wouldn’t be caught dead tying up at a Korean port. I mean, really, what would the rich and famous aboard do if they dared leave the ship, go to a seedy noraebang?

  • Brendon Carr

    You guys need to get over yourselves. Korea’s land and resources, including natural resources, belong to the Koreans. Therefore, the choice of what to do with said land and resources is also up to them and them alone. Yes, they want to pave over all of it.

  • vince

    There are definitely forces in Korean society pushing back on development. They could use all the help they can get because the pro-development forces are strong.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    “It’s very pretty and I would wager that someone has thoughts of a Korean Bali dancing in their heads, much like a Korean Dubai. It could be nice but the BIG question is how far will this reach for the money go — jet skis, fireworks, bonfires, trash, etc.”

    Well, sadly, many Koreans do equate Bali to jet skis, scuba diving, and “banana” boats…and gladly pay shockingly inflated prices for it (Koreans tourists are known to overpay wherever they go).

  • PineForest

    Korea will continue to decimate its natural resources in the name of development.

  • SomeguyinKorea


    Some of us are permanent residents, you know.

    In any case, in typical fashion, the decision to further develop the park will be based on political logic, not market logic.

  • R. Elgin

    The ChosunIlbo has more on this deal too:

    The government decided to ease requirements that need to be met in order to build lodging facilities in national parks and environmental conservation districts along the southern coast so that large hotels and condominiums can be constructed. . . About 30 to 40 spots within the fisheries resources protection zones will be designated “marina port areas,” allowing the construction of facilities such as pleasure-craft docks (jet ski, cruise ships, etc.) and aquariums. Koo Bon-jin, the head of policy coordination at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, said the deregulation will induce W1.8 to 2 trillion in investment in the region.

    Which means since the government has allowed the fishing industry to destroy local fishing due to industrialization and over exploitation(1), they will now work on killing off decades of marine ecosystem conservation. I wonder just how this is supposed to fit in with the Yeosu Expo, (The Living Ocean and Coast) that will be held in 2012!?