A model of island development?
The creaking ferry maneuvers awkwardly among the strong, swirling currents that divide Dokjeok Island from Soya Island, before drawing alongside Dou Pier.
There, stretches a promenade of restaurants beneath a welcoming amphitheatre of verdant mountainside. The portside door is unceremoniously battered open to an intake of bracing fresh air, heavy with the invigorating scent of the sea.
I contemplate the familiar landmarks with fondness, each embodying a particular thought or recollection. There are the towering, attractive Korean red pines, with their wavy terracotta branches and scaly reptilian trunks.
A concealed path through the dark forest brings you to a hidden cove, known only to the exceptionally curious. On the eastern edge is the charming sand flat at Igae, framed by the vivid headland of Mok Seom and its sleepy cyan waters. In the woods, the strangled catcalls of orioles sound from the shady canopy, as I and my companion descend towards Jin-ri beach. A bright blue fishing boat lies resting on the strand, and an unexpectedly nippy breeze rouses strange mists from the sands.
I am intrigued by one dilapidated old house in Jin-ri. Isolated on the edge of the settlement, it has been left standing, out of reverence for the ancestors who once lived in it.
Nowadays creeping plants sprawl over its vacant wide porch, the front door gaping open in shock, as if on the day it was abandoned. Past the intricate doorframe and crumbling masonry, it demands a deep bow to enter the gloom. Inside, is a rusty old stove, with a worn hand-plow and traditional scythe hanging on the wall.
Like many hanok, this humble dwelling follows the principle of ``baesanimsu,” being ideally situated with a mountain in the back, as a windbreak; and south-facing ― so as to receive sunlight all day. All through the village, bamboo shows the same preference ― consistently flourishing on south-facing slopes or in crescents around the vegetable gardens.
Only an hour’s cruise from Incheon, it is easy to see why 100,000 visitors flock to this scenic retreat each year. Most come to bask on the 2-kilometer-long Seopo-ri beach, and are quickly whisked away to seaside pensions by insistent proprietors in minivans. The island has been comprehensively developed for tourism since 1998, swallowing billions of won in government money. Some public works projects have been beneficial, many others have not. I have made sporadic escapes here from Seoul since 2008, and even those four short years have seen a steady flow of new ``improvements".
On this occasion, new wooden boardwalks have been installed throughout the forest ― a fad that is currently sweeping the country. They seem uncalled for as the old paths were quite sufficient. There is also a newly constructed road to nowhere that vanishes into the waves at Igae.
Predictably, the brooks and streams have been concreted into sterile trenches, thus draining and removing freshwater from the ecosystem. Gone are the fish, the frogs and insects. Given that islands in the Yellow Sea function as vital rest-stops and refueling stations for migrating birds, this sort of infrastructure can have a significantly negative impact on the overall biodiversity.
To date, some 140 different birds have been recorded on the island, most of them in tiny patches of surviving natural habitat, such as the swamps near the elementary school or at Idengi-ri. Such crucial feeding areas for birds are invariably viewed as useless wasteland by developers, however, and both have been largely drained or cleared.
This type of expensive and unwarranted development is being mirrored on many other islands along the west coast, damaging their scenic and ecological character.
The writer is a conservationist associated with various environmental organizations in Korea. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.