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First framework for the systematic management of tidal flats with a focus on sustainability and value creation

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- Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries announced First Master Plan for the Management and Restoration of Tidal Flats (2021-2025) -
- Planned to devise management and development measures appropriate for Korean tidal flats’ status and value as World Heritage sites -


The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (MOF; Minister MOON, Seong-Hyeok) announced that it has finalized the “First Master Plan for the Management and Restoration of Tidal Flats (2021-2025)” through the deliberation of the Marine Fishery Development Committee,* and reported the Master Plan at the 42nd Cabinet Meeting.


* The committee deliberates on important policies on marine development and the marine environment in accordance with Article 7 of the Framework Act on Marine Fishery Development.


Korea’s tidal flats are a treasure trove of resources that produce around 90,000 tons of fishery products* annually and have the highest level of biodiversity among tidal flats worldwide.** Four tidal flats, including those in Gochang and Shinan, have been recognized for their value by being listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. As Korea’s tidal flats are known to absorb a total of 260,000 tons of CO2 on an annual basis, they are attracting attention as blue carbon sinks (marine carbon sinks).


* Fishery products produced in 2020: 94,478 tons, valued at KRW 433.1 billion (45,745 tons of clams, 33,622 tons of oysters, 5,923 tons of octopus, etc.)
** Korea’s tidal flats are home to around 770 types (2020) of marine organisms (more than the World Heritage site of Wadden Sea’s tidal flats, which has around 400 types).


The government has designated and preserved tidal flats that serve as habitats for major marine life or that have great ecological value as wetland protection areas pursuant to the Wetlands Conservation Act and implemented tidal flat management policies that minimize the development and use of such areas.


In addition, since the announcement of the Korean Green New Deal, there has been a growing need to efficiently utilize various ecosystem services* offered by tidal flats as well as a need to create future value through tidal flats that can serve as blue carbon sinks. Therefore, the government has enacted the Act on the Sustainable Management and Restoration of Tidal Flats (Gaetbeol) and Adjacent Areas Thereof (hereinafter “Tidal Flat Act”) and built the policy and institutional groundwork for the systematic and science-based management and sustainable use of tidal flats. 


* Ecosystem services: benefits that humans receive from the ecosystem, including: 1) provisioning services (provision of food, water, trees, and other tangible products), 2) regulating services (air purification, carbon absorption, climate regulation, disaster prevention, etc.), 3) cultural services (ecological tourism, beautiful and pleasant landscapes, recreation, etc.), and 4) supporting services (formation of soil, provision of habitat, circulation of materials, and other nature-sustaining activities).


The First Master Plan for the Management and Restoration of Tidal Flats (2021-2025, hereinafter “First Master Plan”) was established under Article 7 of the Tidal Flat Act. Under the vision of realizing tidal flats where “wildlife and residents can co-exist in a sustainable manner,” the First Master Plan contains three goals: 1) strengthen the integrated management of risk factors affecting tidal flats, 2) identify and better utilize the diverse values of tidal flats, and 3) systematically restore tidal flats across their entire life cycle. Five strategies and 18 specific policy targets for achieving these goals are included in the plan as well.


Strategy 1: Strengthen the science-based management of tidal flats


A comprehensive survey* will be conducted (every five years) on the use of tidal flats and their environmental and ecological status as well as degradation, and the survey results will be used to enable the management of tidal flats based on their grade. Depending on the status and management conditions of tidal flats, tidal flats will be categorized into five grades (excellent, good, ordinary, at risk, and under management). For the excellent- and good tidal flats, policies to maintain and enhance their ecosystems and capacity for fishery production, such as designation as tidal flat conservation areas, will be a key priority. For tidal flats that are at risk or under management, measures to improve their ecosystems and surrounding environments, such as designation as tidal flat rest areas, will be implemented to manage and mitigate sources of contamination.


* Tidal flat survey: A survey will be carried out to take stock of tidal flats in terms of their size, current status of fishing activities, how fishing grounds are being used, current status of pollution sources and sedimentation, current status of tidal flat biodiversity, and current status of areas where tidal flats are to be restored.


In addition, tidal flat ecosystem services will be assessed to specify the types and amounts of benefits and value that tidal flats offer to the public. Based on the assessment, the “Payment for Ecosystem Services”* will be introduced to make up for the income loss incurred due to restrictions on fishing activities in tidal flats that are closed for a set period of time and subsidize the cost of environmental preservation for tidal flats that require such preservation work.


* Efforts (of the Ministry of Environment) are underway to introduce the Payment for Ecosystem Services as a way to provide compensation for activities to preserve and boost ecosystem services.
The results of the tidal flat survey and ecosystem services assessment will be made public through an integrated tidal flat information system that is set to be established, as well as a mobile application, so that people can easily access and make better use of the information.


Strategy 2: Expand the tools for effective tidal flat management


An integrated management system will be established to monitor sources of pollution by basin, covering tidal flats and their adjacent areas, thereby strengthening the management of land-based pollutants that enter tidal flats. A management manual will be put together to manage sources of pollution such as livestock farming, which is a problematic issue for some tidal flats. Furthermore, mitigation measures will be devised through cooperation with relevant ministries and local governments for the aggressive management of pollution sources.


Moreover, a scheme for tidal flat management areas* that takes into account the characteristics of tidal flats in terms of utilization and preservation will be introduced to build and implement management measures depending on the main purposes of tidal flats. In addition, residents will be encouraged to take part in the voluntary management of tidal flats, while expert advice will be provided to aid the management capacity building of local governments and residents.


Examples of key management measures and models by type of tidal flat management area

Types management measures (pending) Note
Tidal flat conservation area Monitor key species, sign an agreement to ban access to the area and manage marine biodiversity (if fishing grounds are included), and install signboards. Link with marine protected areas
Tidal flat safety management area Install signboards and displays pointing out risks, include area as a priority area on tidal flat guide applications, and install rescue equipment. Develop a map for tidal channels first
Tidal flat rest area  Designate and market the area, include the area in a contract on the management of marine biological diversity (compensation for fishing operation), plant spawns, and introduce Payment for Ecosystem Services. Devise rules for voluntary management
Tidal flat production area  Plant spawns, support farming and sand addition, support the installation of farming facilities, study sources of pollution in basins, and install treatment facilities. Link with clean tidal flats
Tidal flat experience area Install movable facilities for experience areas, install educational facilities, include the area in a tidal flat guide application, and prioritize area in the dispatch of tidal flat ecosystem guides. Link with tidal flat ecotourism and ecological villages around tidal flats



Meanwhile, the results of the tidal flat survey will form the basis for designating tidal flats that meet the environment and hygiene standard as “clean tidal flats.” Fishery products from such areas will be promoted as quality (clean) fishery product brands while encouraging the preferential procurement of such products. This will facilitate the production and consumption of fishery products.


Tidal flats that have seen an increase in safety accidents recently due to the provision of more hands-on tidal flat experiences, such as mudflat fishing, will be designated as tidal flat safety management area. In these areas, instructions to prevent accidents will be provided and safety equipment installed to reduce risks.


Strategy 3: Secure carbon sinks through the restoration of tidal flat ecosystems


The types of tidal flat restoration projects* that have been underway since 2010 will be diversified and expanded in phases with the goal of restoring a total of 4.5km2 of tidal flats by 2025. In addition, freshwater lakes and estuaries that have been reclaimed but are currently non-functional due to contamination will be restored to their original state through a new type of tidal flat restoration. Of special note, restoration types and a step-by-step manual on restoration will be established to enable the restoration projects to be executed more efficiently and systematically, and the impacts of the projects will be continuously monitored and assessed.


* Since 2010, a total of 1.5km2 of tidal flats has been restored through restoration projects (completed at 11 sites, ongoing at nine sites), such as seawater circulation and improvement of closed salt farms and fish farms.

To improve tidal flats’ ability to absorb carbon, tidal flat vegetation projects that plant halophytes such as reeds in the in-land parts of tidal flats will be operated on a pilot basis from 2022 (two sites spanning 10km2). These projects aim to cover 660km2 of tidal flats that will absorb 230,000 tons of carbon by 2050. Eco-friendly construction methods will be applied in consideration of the physical and ecological characteristics of tidal flats to avoid undermining the ecological functions and biodiversity of the tidal flats.


While building a statistics system for blue carbon* to secure marine sinks for greenhouse gases, research will be expanded, with international cooperation, to verify tidal flats’ role as blue carbon ecosystems.


* Satellite-assisted monitoring of coastal wetlands over a certain period of time, management and verification of absorption and emission coefficients of CO2, etc.


Strategy 4: Make better use of tidal flat ecosystem services


Various polices to promote ecotourism in tidal flats by tapping into their excellent ecological resources will be put in place. First, a secretariat tasked with nurturing and training “tidal flat ecosystem guides” as key personal of the voluntary tidal flat management mechanism will be established. A designated institution responsible for designing and evaluating the training courses for the guides will also be operated.


In addition, “certificates for tidal flat ecotourism” and “designated ecological villages around tidal flats” will be introduced to provide quality tourism services for the people. Support* for securing infrastructure for ecotourism that fits the local context and hands-on experience programs will also be provided. Moreover, ecotourism on tidal flats will be revitalized by identifying and disseminating local success cases and assisting relevant professionals.


* Set up and operate a residential council, install convenience facilities, and support and fund programs for promoting ecotourism.


In the meantime, ecotourism commentators and tour guides by theme (organisms, migratory birds, etc.) will be fostered to raise awareness of the value of tidal flats among various users, such as adolescent visitors and fishermen. Online interactive experience programs enabled by AR/VR will also be developed along with the organization of special exhibitions and programs through maritime museums and the National Marine Biodiversity Institute of Korea.


Strategy 5: Build governance for tidal flat management


Local committees will be formed and operated, on an ecosphere basis, to systematically and comprehensively manage tidal flats that are closely linked through ocean currents and geological and geographical features. In addition, a system to pursue integrated tidal flat management on an ecosphere basis* will be created, and a tidal flat support center (tentative name) will be established to support the operation of the local committees.


* (Local committees/governments) formulate and execute management plans → (local administrative agencies) check progress → (Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries/specialized committees) evaluate implementation → (tidal flat support centers/Korea Marine Environment Management Corporation) provide technical support, etc.


Moreover, citizen monitoring* will be revitalized to better collect and utilize the results of the survey that has been conducted mainly by the government and experts. To that end, we will lay the legal groundwork for the introduction of citizen monitoring while building and operating a platform** for programs and surveys that are open to general citizens and environmental groups.


* Develop and distribute a manual to investigate and monitor tidal flats, targeting sea birds and macrobenthos that are accessible by the general public and can be monitored around the clock.
** Develop, distribute, and utilize a digital platform (application) to add and utilize on-site survey data.


Moreover, we will strive to increase the number of ecologically excellent Korean tidal flats that are listed in the Ramsar Convention and reinforce international cooperation with advanced nations on tidal flat management, such as the three nations sharing the Wadden Sea (Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark). Importantly, given that international bodies such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognize the value of our tidal flats as key habitats for migratory birds, the cooperation mechanism with East Asia (South Korea, China, Russia, and North Korea) regarding endangered migratory birds will be strengthened.


Enhanced conservation and management of Korean tidal flats as World Heritage sites


In the meantime, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries also reported a plan to conserve and manage Korean tidal flats in connection with the First Master Plan at the Cabinet Meeting.


The report mainly discusses the establishment of a well-designed management system for conserving the outstanding universal value (OUV*) of the biodiversity of Korean tidal flats and the habitats they provide for endangered migratory birds with the listing of Korean tidal flats as World Heritage sites on July 26.


* Outstanding universal value: criteria for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site


First, the conservation and monitoring of migratory bird habitats, contamination management targeting marine waste, and survey on and restoration of ecosystems will help preserve the inherent functions and value of tidal flats. In addition, the Heritage Zone, as recommended by the World Heritage Committee, will be expanded through consultation with local residents and additional designation of tidal flats with outstanding biodiversity and major habitats for migratory birds as wetland protection areas.


In addition, a private-public-academia system for the efficient, integrated management of listed World Heritage sites will be established while revamping relevant laws and institutions and strengthening the management system* for organization, personnel, and on-site surveys, such as an integrated center for World Heritage sites.


* The government budget for 2022 will include the budgets for the tidal flat survey (KRW 500 million) and payment for services (KRW 200 million) for the integrated management of World Heritage sites (tidal flats).


To that end, short- and mid- to long-term roadmaps will be drawn up to manage and preserve Korea’s tidal flats in an organized and comprehensive manner, reflecting annual policy measures for tidal flat management and restoration. Along with this, we will pursue promotion activities to raise awareness of tidal flats as World Heritage sites and seek global cooperation.


MOON, Seong-Hyeok, Minister of Oceans and Fisheries, said, “The First Master Plan, which was formulated in line with the global trend toward environmental conservation and carbon neutrality, will form the foundation for the rational utilization and sustainability of tidal flats over the next five years.” He added, “Our ministry will work with relevant ministries and local governments to execute the plan to meet our goals.”