A Vision for Hwaseong Wetlands

World Heritage Site Proposal and Tourism Management Strategies

Fisher folk call the Black-faced Spoonbill (BFS) the black-faced dancer (heimen pei liu) for its elegant, sweeping movements as it feeds in the shallows of tidal flats and fish ponds. Scientists named it Platalea minor. The BFS is the rarest and most endangered of all spoonbills. Having worked to preserve and expand its habitat since 1997, the LAEP department is recognized for saving the spoonbill from extinction. The small non-profit organization, Spoonbill Action Voluntary Echo (SAVE) International,  grew out of this work. The UC Berkeley Environmental Planning Studio (LA 205) has worked with SAVE and other organizations and institutions in Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and China at the broadest scale of the bird’s annual cycle to individual sites where the spoonbill winters, summers, and migrates. Korea provides the most critical summer home and migratory route for not only the BFS but dozens of other species of birds, all of which depend on coastal habitats and the communities that live therein. In spring 2022, the LA 205 studio continued this tradition of coastal planning to save endangered cultures, species, and wetlands of international importance.  That studio tackled a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to expand protected wetland habitats in South Korea through the World Heritage project known as “Getbol, Korean Tidal Flats”.

Located on the northwest coast in the Gyeonggi Province of South Korea, just outside the large metropolitan cities of Seoul and Incheon, the Hwaseong wetlands offer unique and essential natural values that qualify for Ramsar protection 1, but are under extreme pressure from coastal development and military interests. There is a nearby World Heritage site, the Suwon Fortress, and if the Hwaseong Wetlands is added to the Getbol, Korean Tidal Flats project, the dual cultural and natural designations would significantly expand work in tourism industries for local people. Guided by SAVE International, Birds Korea, the National Park Service, and others, the 2022 LA205 studio was tasked with overlay mapping of critical factors to determine the most appropriate boundaries for World Heritage Getbol Phase 2 designation in and around the Hwaseong Wetlands and a development plan for ecotourism based on ecosystem protection, tourist experience, and disturbance distances of critical bird species. The final deliverables included an overall World Heritage management plan for Hwaseong Wetlands with specific ecological protection both now and in the future given sea level rise and employment opportunities for local people, along with visitor connections between the Suwon World Heritage site and the proposed Hwaseong Wetlands World Heritage site, and an ecological logic for the entire Getbol, Korean Tidal Flats project.

The work from the Spring 2022 studio was further developed by students, Marina Stern, Hailey Malone, and Xihan Yao, and professors Randy Hester and Marcia McNally, and in partnership with SAVE International, Birds Korea, and Korea Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM), to result in “A Vision for Hwaseong Wetlands: World Heritage Site Proposal and Tourism Management Strategies”. This report addresses the ways these wetlands expand the value of the Phase One Getbol, the scientific basis for a proposed boundary for Hwaseong Wetlands should it become a World Heritage site, and visualization of how facilities could be designed appropriately for use by local people, visitors, and researchers. This work is intended to add to the considerable work already done by others to encourage the conservation of Hwaseong Wetlands.