Discovering Dokdos Unique Habitat
By Michael Ha
The Dokdo Research Center, part of the Korea Ocean Research and Development Institute (KORDI), plays an important role in defending the East Sea islets. Since its founding two years ago, the group has spearheaded major scientific research projects to understand more about Dokdo's natural environment.
``Dokdo is our land. But there is still so much about these islands that we need to find out," said Park Chan-hong, director of the Dokdo Research Center at KORDI.
The organization is dedicated to finding out more about Dokdo's natural environment and its ecosystem through scientific research, Park said. For the past two years, some 100 researchers have been working on scientific projects and on-site surveys of the islets, using 400-ton and 1,450-ton
marine research vessels.
``Our staff researchers and scientists are engaged in learning more about Dokdo's ecosystem and the islets' diverse marine life and natural resources. We look at ways our government can effectively manage and develop Dokdo's environment," Park said.
The researchers are publishing their findings in foreign and domestic academic communities. ``We write and publish scientific papers in journals all around the world. In the past two years, we have published dozens of papers in major research journals," he explained.
``Our group also organizes public exhibitions that showcase our discoveries. We help inform the international community that Korea has long had physical possession of Dokdo and that the islets are part of Korean territory."
Park noted that ``when we submit our findings in scholarly journals around the world, they clearly indicate the islets as Dokdo, and part of Korean territory."
Blueprint for Developing Islets
He also noted that if the Korean government does take further steps to develop Dokdo and its surrounding areas, ``the officials will need to have a clear understanding of how to effectively develop the islets without damaging the existing natural environment and ecosystem."
Park said that ``I think we've been able to find out quite a bit during the past two years. Our researchers were able to learn a great deal more about Dokdo's unique ecosystem and its underwater environment."
Researchers were able to discover new micro-organisms and marine life around Dokdo and have been publishing these findings.
Whole Other Dokdo Under the Sea
``There are many organizations in Korea that specialize in Dokdo's historical, diplomatic issues and matters involving international law. But there aren't many scientific research organizations focusing on Dokdo. Our Dokdo Research Center is one of very few Korean organizations involved in long-term, comprehensive scientific research into Dodko and its surrounding environment."
Park said the most important fact that he wants to tell others not familiar with Dokdo is that ``what they see above water is only a small fraction of what really constitutes Dokdo. Its main geographical landscape is largely hidden under water."
Indeed, Dokdo appears as a speck of a land in the middle of the vast East Sea. But a closer look at the region's geography shows that Dokdo's main features may lie beneath it. Underwater, there is a whole environment, replete with a diverse ecosystem teeming with marine life and abundant natural resources.
New Marine Species Found
The Dokdo Research Center's efforts are already reaping major results. Revealing how little is known about Dokdo's underwater inhabitants, researchers recently announced discovery of two new marine species and have published these findings in international scientific journals.
These two newly discovered species were named ``Prochaetosoma Dokdoense" and ``Paradraconema Coreense." Researchers are discovering a bounty of biodiversity in the waters off Dokdo islets. They have also recently announced the discovery of a group of micro-organisms and have named them ``Croceitalea eckloniae DOKDO 025" and ``Croceitalea dokdonensis DOKDO 023."
Researchers at the Dokdo Research Center are also examining what they describe as the ``Dokdo Abyssal Current" and the ``Dokdo Effect" and how these distinctive features affect the underwater temperature and Dokdo's rich marine ecosystem.
Maritime Boundary for Korea
Additionally, Dokdo serves as a crucial maritime boundary for Korea.
Kang Jung-keuk, president of the Korea Ocean Research and Development Institute, the parent group for the research center, said ``above water, Dokdo is a group of small islands. But people develop a new sense of appreciation for these islets once they learn the scientific facts.''
Kang explained that Dokdo is part of an underwater volcanic landscape that actually rises more than 2,000 meters from the base. Dokdo's underwater continental landscape covers 84 million square meters, some 10 times bigger than Youido Island in Seoul.
``Dokdo is also crucial for Korea because it sets Korea's maritime boundaries,'' Kang said. ``With Dokdo, Korea stakes a claim to vast sea territories, equivalent to two-thirds of Korea's overall landmass.''
He added: ``Dokdo's diverse ecosystem also has a very high value. And publishing our research results lets the world know that Korea has actual physical possession of Dokdo. This is our land, and all the marine resources underwater are ours as well. They are truly precious assets to us.''
``So of course, we should understand everything there is to know about these islets scientifically. But we have been somewhat lacking in this regard until recently.''
Kang explained how the institute's research center came into being. He noted that in 2005, the National Assembly ratified a bill, calling on the government to create a blueprint for developing Dokdo and its surroundings. The government then chose the institute to lead the effort, leading to the founding of the research center.
Kang also noted that in conducting research on Dokdo, scientists are making an effort to examine nearby Ulleung-do as well. ``That's because when researchers include in their academic papers references to Ulleung-do as well as Dokdo, that really bolsters Korea's sovereignty over Dokdo.''
The research center makes much of its research findings available to the public, at its online database and its Web site www.dokdo.re.kr.
The center is boosting effort to examine Dokdo's ecosystem and will relocate to a brand new research center in Uljin, North Gyeongsang Province, in September.