PSPD in English Peace/Disarmament 2015-08-05   2692

[Press Conference] Environmental Impact Assessment of the Jeju Soft Coral

Environmental Impact Assessment of the Jeju soft corals: before and after the construction of the military naval base

05 August 2015

 

On the 5th of August 2015, two press conferences were held to announce the results of the environmental impact assessment of the construction of the Jeju military naval base on the soft coral colonies in Jeju island. In Jeju, Kim Guknam (Gangjeong Village Marine Team) and Lee Young-oung (Secretary General of the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement in Jeju) spoke at the Jeju Residents Provincial Council, while in Seoul, Yoon Sanghoon (Secretary General of Green Korea United) and Go Gown-il (Chairperson of the Jeju Anti Base Committee) presented at People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy.

 

Both press conferences were jointly organized by the Office of Jang Hana (Member of Parliament from The New Democratic Party), Gangjeong Village Association, Jeju Pan-Island Committee for Stop of Military Base and for Realization of Peace Island, and National Network of Korean Civil Society for Opposing to the Naval Base in Jeju Island. These groups have conducted environmental impact assessment on the soft coral colonies at the coastal of Gangjeong Village after the naval base was being constructed.

 

During the press conference, pictures and videos taken in 2008 and 2015 of the same areas of soft corals were presented in order to compare the condition of the corals and to assess the impact of the construction of the military naval base on the livelihood of the coral colonies. These pictures and videos have been documented by a coalition of the abovementioned groups who have been monitoring the situation of the soft corals on regular bases since 2008. The construction of the military naval base in Gangjeong village, on Jeju Island, has been very controversial, creating many problems for the villagers and much destruction of nature. The construction’s full impact on the ecosystem is yet to be fully assessed. However, a focus on the destruction of the soft corals gives an indication of a much larger impact on the marine life of the area. The government conducted its own environmental impact in assessment in 2008, but the report excluded a huge part area around the construction site and excluded endangered species such as the red foot crab and others from scope of their investigation. Therefore, the report has been heavily criticized by environmental groups for its lack of competency.
 
Jeju’s Octocoral forests, which spread across 73,800 square meters, were designated as Korean Natural Monument #442 and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. However, the impact of the toxic sediments, and oil spills generated at the construction site has been devastating and the situation will only get worse with the future continuous traffic of ships and submarines after the construction is completed. Additionally, it is predicted that the completed port will surely alter the currents which bring the corals their crucial plankton diet, which are essential for the distribution of their planktonic larvae. (From: http://savejejunow.org/sacred-spectacular-soft-corals-gangjeong/). The value of these specific soft coral colonies around the Ganjeong coast line is not only esthetic but is also crucial to insure the survival of other interdependent species.

 

Since the second half of 2012, the environmental changes in the area around the construction site of the naval base have been rapidly detected. The Navy began construction in earnest after the blasting of Gureombi rock, this is also when the construction of the breakwater began. During the construction process, reduction measures of construction related toxic waste, which were proposed in the environmental impact assessment, have been continuously ignored by the navy. Most pollution prevention measures were not put in place while dredging was carried out. Local authorities have failed to ensure that the measures proposed are properly implemented.

 

In 2009, the Cultural Heritage Administration approved construction of the naval base under the condition that the Navy periodically reports its environmental impact assessment, including the impact on soft coral colonies. The navy was required to immediately stop the construction if the impact of the construction was at any point negatively causing any environmental disasters affecting the quality of the water or the marine life in the area. However, the navy’s environmental impact assessment reports continuously failed to present the real impact, therefore the presenters at the press conference called for the protection of the soft corals around the military naval base through the following demands: First, the Cultural Heritage Administration should immediately investigate whether the environmental impact assessment reports submitted by the Navy fully included the worsening situation of soft coral colonies. Second, real-time monitoring of sediment concentrations that occur during the construction should take place immediately. Third, the changes of habitat of the soft corals should be documented and analyzed in comparison to historical data. The Cultural Heritage Administration should be aware of the seriousness of navy’s violation of the license conditions and it is their duty to monitor the situation very closely. The navy should be held responsible for any violation of the law and should be required to follow the required environmental protection procedures during the construction.

 

It is the duty of the government to protect national environmental treasures such as the rare soft coral colonies that are found on Jeju island off the coast of Gangjeong village. The loss of such species is a loss to the local community, to the Korean society, and also it is an environmental damage which will have repercussions that will go much further than the Korean peninsula.

 

(by Lina Koleilat, PSPD fellow)

 

 

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