Suncheon, Republic of Korea: Suncheonman bay wetland conservation project

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Initiative: Suncheonman bay wetland conservation project

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City: Suncheon
Country: Republic of Korea
Award Categories:         Living Green for Social Cohesion IconLiving Green for Biodiversity Icon
Finalist: Living Green for Social Cohesion Icon

Initiative: Suncheonman bay wetland conservation project

In 1996, when the Dongcheon Estuary Maintenance Project and Aggregate Collection project were approved, the Suncheonman Bay Conservation Movement began as a campaign against them by local NGOs and academia. Suncheonman Bay Committee, a civil-academic council led by civic groups, was established, and as a result of the continuous conservation campaign, it led to the cancellation of permission for projects in 1998 and laid the foundation for Suncheon Bay conservation. Since then, various legal and institutional strategies have been established to conserve Suncheonman Bay. The legal and institutional protection systems currently applied are listed in chronological order below.

  • History of Suncheonman Bay Wetland Conservation.
    Permission for aggregate collection project in 1996 as well as Dongcheon Estuary Maintenance Project.
    Being observed of rare international migratory birds such as storks, hooded cranes, and black-haired seagulls in 1996.
    In 1997, the civic movement against aggregate collection project. Held the 1st Suncheonman Bay Reed Festival.
  • In 1998, the permission for the aggregate collection project at Dongcheon was revoked.
  • Proposal for designation of wetland protected area and registration of Ramsar Wetland in 2003
  • Suncheonman Bay wetland(28㎢) registered as Ramsar Wetland, the first Korea coastal wetland in 2006
  • Establishment of the first Suncheonman Bay Efficient Conservation and Sustainable Use Plan in 2008
  • The official destination of Ramsar General Assembly in 2008 and the World NGO Competition were held.
  • Designated as Korean Cultural Heritage Scenic Spot No. 41 in 2008.
  • In 2009, a rice paddy wetland near Suncheonman Bay & its estuary(7.7㎢) were designated as ecosystem conservation district.
  • 2013 Suncheonman International Garden Expo was held (April 20, 2013 ~ October 20, 2013).
  • 2015 Suncheonman Garden Designated as Korea’s first National Garden. Dongcheon Estuary registered as a wetland protected area.
  • Registered as Ramsar Wetland in Dongcheon Estuary in 2016 (5.4))
  • In 2017, Applied the entire Suncheon-si for registration as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
  • Promoted the registration of the southwest coast island tidal flat as a World Natural Heritage Site.
  • In 2018, the entire city of Suncheon was designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
    Suncheonman Bay Mudflat registered as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021.

Suncheonman Bay is a wetland with various habitats such as a river’s brackish water area (where rivers enter the sea and mix with seawater), salt marsh, wide reed field, and tidal flat, and 239 species of birds are observed. Of them, 33 species are rare, endangered birds worldwide and live on the nature of Suncheonman Bay.

The Suncheonman Bay Conservation Movement provided an opportunity to newly recognize the value of reed fields and tidal flats, and Suncheonman Bay has become a representative ecological resource in Suncheon. As a result, Suncheonman Bay’s ecology has evolved into a world-class ecological tourist destination beyond Korea.

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Addressing the urban challenge

Breadth of the issue – How are the problem(s) that are being tackled by your initiative affecting citizens/local businesses or a significant component of the local wildlife?

With the removal of environmental pollution facilities and restoration of wetlands in Suncheonman Bay, the diversity of species and habitats in Suncheonman Bay was expanded, it emerged as a representative ecological tourist destination in Korea.

  • Hooded cranes: 80 (’99) → 138 (’03) → 525 (’10) → 871 (’13) → 1,725 (’16). In 2021, 3,400 cranes, the largest ever, safely finished wintering.
  • The number of tourists: 100,000 (’03) → 1.28 million (’05) → 2.95 million (’10) → 6.99 million (’13) → 5.43 million (’16) → 6.17 million (’19)

According to the 2014 “Economic Value Assessment for Ecological Restoration of Suncheonman Bay (Hwang Min-seop, Korea University Graduate School and two others), analyzing the travel costs (ecotourism) of tourists visiting Suncheonman Bay generated 174.7 billion KRW in annual benefits.

Depth of the issue – How seriously are the problems being tackled by your initiative impacting the life of the citizens/businesses/wildlife concerned?
  • Community Participation Project in Suncheonman Bay area
    •  Promoting private-led wetland preservation projects by inducing voluntary participation of residents in Suncheonman Bay to preserve wetlands in Suncheonman Bay and expanding participation of local residents and civil society organizations.
    •  From the early stage of the project, local civic groups discover customized wetland conservation projects for each village and promote to publish a white paper containing the project promotion process, performance, trial and error, and on-site voices by monitoring the entire process of project.
  • Resident-led Ecotourism Project
    •  Launched a resident-led ecotourism support as it was designated as an ecotourism area by the Ministry of Environment in 2013
    •  Developed residents-led ecotourism programs and continuously promoted public awareness activities by registering Suncheonman Bay Ecotourism Council.
    •  Villages(Jangsan, Geocha, Nongju, Daedae) were selected as pilot villages for ecotourism in the early stages of the project.
    •  It provides opportunities to discover cultural values and generate income in new regions by revitalizing ecotourism.
  • Operation of Hooded Crane Agricultural Complex
    •  The habitat of cranes in Korea accelerates deterioration due to wetland damage caused by development.
    •  About 282 electric poles of agricultural land were removed, and eco-friendly rice cultivation and landscape farming were promoted around Suncheonman Bay from 2009 to provide healthy food and stable habitat for winter birds.
    •  80, in 2009, the number of hooded cranes increased to 3,451 in 2021.
    •  Establish a virtuous cycle of coexistence between humans and nature by preserving endangered species habitats.

The power of plants and natural ecosystems to deliver benefits

How is the initiative shaped by scientific evidence of the potential for plants and natural ecosystems to deliver benefits?

Adjusting and maintaining the underground water level
Water that has passed through the low layer of the wetland is filtered out in the process of flowing into the groundwater layer. The water introduced into the groundwater layer is directly used as household water, agricultural water, and industrial water, and prevents the inflow of brine from the coast.

Prevents flooding and supplies water
Wetlands acts as a reservoir that accumulates excess flood volume during floods, and plants in swamps delay the flow of water, prevent extreme changes in river flow rates, and alleviate  flood occurrence. (In the event of a flood, 1ha of wetland stores a depth of 120 mm.) Natural wetlands have an economic effect of reducing dams, reservoirs, and irrigation facilities, and they can provide living water, agricultural water, and industrial water due to the relatively stable amounts outflow.

Maintaining and protecting water quality
It suppresses eutrophication, which is emerging as a major problem in lakes. Wetlands improve water quality by accumulating nitrogen and phosphorus. Therefore, maintaining wetlands reduces the need to build drainage treatment facilities, and can be used to treat small-scale household wastewater. These nutritive salts accumulate in wetlands during the slow flow of water which increase the reproduction of fish or birds to maintain the survival of wetland creatures and promote the growth of agricultural products, and during the fast flow of water, they leak from nutrients from wetlands to become a source of nutrition for the creatures of downstream or coast.

How has the city exploited the potential of plants and associated ecosystems to deliver more than one benefit?

Suncheon city has steadily restored wetland by purchasing land in areas expected to be developed around wetland protection areas. All duck farms that contaminated water quality and restaurants near wetlands were closed down. The city pulled out all 282 electric poles from nearby agricultural lands for migratory birds visiting Suncheonman Bay. And rice harvested by eco-friendly farming was purchased by the city and provided as food for cranes.

The restored wetland provides benefits such as controlling and maintaining groundwater levels, suppressing flood, supplying water, and maintaining river water quality protection to nearby residents, and provides habitat to various wetland creatures including rare extinct birds.

Innovative and Collaborative Solution

How does the initiative show evidence of feasibility, including on-going financial and logistical support?

In 2008, Suncheon city divided the space compartment into four major areas, centering on the river (Dongcheon) that vertically connects the city centre and Suncheonman Bay, and reflected them in the urban plan.

  • Urban zone: A potential space visited by locals and many tourists, a transportation hub, and an environmentally friendly space that links various cultural and tourism resources in Suncheon-city.
  • Transition zone: A space that minimizes rapid functional changes between buffer zones and urban zones, and meets the demand for parks and walks in urban areas.
  • Buffer zone: It is an area to protect the Eco-reserved zone, which is a key area, and is basically a space where management, ecotourism, experience, and education are used within a conservative framework.
  • Eco-reserved zone: In order to protect Suncheonman Bay, a key resource of Suncheon-city, activities for habitat conservation and species conservation such as migratory birds, reeds, and tidal flat life are mainly carried out, such as removing environmental hindrance facilities and restoring wetlands.
In what ways is the initiative innovative?

In order to preserve the Suncheon Bay wetland, restaurants and residential facilities that were operated close to the reed forest were relocated, the restrictions on visitor vehicles were taken effect. And 282 electric poles were removed for biodiversity of wetland creatures. In addition, paddy wetlands were created by restoring landfills, agricultural lands, and wetlands in the riverside area. In 2015, the farmland in the Dongcheon estuary adjacent to Suncheonman Bay and 5.394㎢ of river estuary were designated as national wetland protected areas and registered as Ramsar wetlands in January 2016. And Suncheon city established an integrated wetland management system linking major ecological axes of wetlands such as coastal wetlands, estuary wetlands, and paddy wetlands.

How is the initiative supported by collaborative working across disciplines and sectors?

Enactment of the “Ordinance on the preservation Management and Support Project of Suncheonman Bay Wetland”

The Suncheonman Bay Protection Citizens’ Conference, consisting of more than 30 civic groups in Suncheon, received a petition from residents in October 2010 and they passed the nation’s first ordinance submitted by citizen in March 2014. The petition required 5,218 signatures from citizens for ordinance request process, but more than 9,200 signatures was submitted.

In the process, numerous civil-private and academic governance (Suncheon City, Maritime Development Institute, Suncheon National University, Jeonnam Eastern Community Research Institute, Suncheon Environmental Movement Union, and Suncheon City Council) were held.

“Ordinance on the preservation Management and Support Project of Suncheonman Bay Wetland” was passed in March 2014 to restore the healthiness of the Suncheonman Bay mudflats and increase the awareness of wetland preservation among coastal residents.

How does the initiative demonstrate evidence of community support?          

Suncheonman Bay Wetland Committee (2007~present)

  • Purpose of establishment
    • Established as a private-public-academia consultative body for systematic preservation and management of Suncheonman Bay.
    • Reinforcement of the locality and expertise of the Suncheonman Bay Committee.
    • Regular meetings (once a quarter ☞ bi-monthly)
    • Listening to the voice of the site through a committee visiting the village.
  • Main functions: deliberation and advice for the preservation and wise use of Suncheonman Bay.
  • Composition of subcommittees: operation of festival subcommittees, shelter subcommittees, and resident participation subcommittees.
  • Meeting: 50 times in total (including the main committee and subcommittees)
  • Major achievements.
    • Development and deliberation of a resident-led participating program of the Suncheonman Bay Reed Festival.
    • Encourage sales of local food in Suncheonman Bay, such as food and beverages sold in Suncheonman Bay Wetland.
    • Establishment of a 10% Suncheonman bay wetland profit return system for local residents.

Implementation, Impact and Replicability

How has the initiative had a ripple effect beyond the scope of the initiative itself, thereby demonstrating a change in the city’s and/or its partners’ way of working with plants?

The Suncheonman National Garden, created to prevent the expansion of Suncheon City, attracts more than 5 million tourists every year.  And the number of international rare migratory bird wintering in Suncheonman Bay wetlands increased from 80 (99′) to up to 3,400 (21′).

  • Hooded cranes: 80 (’99) → 138 (’03) → 525 (’10) → 871 (’13) → 1,725 (’16). In 2021, 3,400 cranes, the largest ever, safely finished wintering.
  • The number of tourists: 100,000 (’03) → 1.28 million (’05) → 2.95 million (’10) → 6.99 million (’13) → 5.43 million (’16) → 6.17 million (’19)
How has the initiative had a ripple effect beyond the scope of the initiative itself, thereby demonstrating a change in the city’s and/or its partners’ way of working with plants?

(Farmland) Create a habitat for hooded cranes led by residents.

  • About 282 electric poles of agricultural land were removed, and eco-friendly rice cultivation was carried out in farmland (59ha) around Suncheonman Bay from 2009.
  • Create jobs for residents such as supplying healthy food for winter birds, providing stable habitats, and protecting migratory birds.
  • The number of hooded cranes increased from 80 (1999) to 3,400 (2021), enhancing the brand value of Suncheonman Bay.

(Tidal Flat) Production of various seafood products

  • Eleven fishing villages are distributed in Byeolryang-myeon, Haeryong-myeon, and Dosa-dong, and the proportion of fishing houses around the area accounts for 417 (40%) out of a total of 1,051 households.
  • Various marine products such as black cockles, cockles, razor clam, crabs, mudskippers, oysters, and corbicula (Theora fragilis) are produced in the clean tidal flat.
  • In order to prohibit illegal catch and overfishing of fish during the spawning season of fish(from July to August), a prohibition period is established to protect fish resources and promote autonomous fishing village management projects.
  • In the event of heavy rains in spring and autumn, the tidal flat purification project is carried out with 11 fishing village members to dispose of garbage flowing from land.
How have other cities expressed interest in the initiative, or what potential does it have to interest other cities and be customised to their own circumstances?

The efforts of Suncheon city to preserve wetlands and tidal flats re-examined the value of tidal flats, and in the 2010s, the paradigm of national policy shifted from reclamation to preservation. The five local governments (Suncheon, Sinan, Boseong, Gochang, and Seocheon) adjacent to the tidal flat jointly applied for UNESCO World Heritage registration in January 2018 but were rejected because there were not enough heritage zone and buffer zone. Accordingly, each city and county held a joint briefing session and made efforts to expand the heritage zone and buffer zone through heated discussions. With these efforts, the World Heritage Committee, which consists of 21 member countries, unanimously decided to register the five mudflats as a World Natural Heritage Site in July 2021 in recognition of their outstanding universal value.

Sustainability and Resilience

What efforts have been made to reduce the carbon footprint of the initiative?

Introduction of the electric propulsion ecological experience boat.

As the nature of Suncheonman Bay Wetland recovers, many visitors are currently using the ecological experience boat with internal combustion engine to tour Suncheonman Bay. However, Suncheon City aims to provide tourists with an eco-friendly experience without fumes and noise in 2023 by building two 20-ton electric propulsion ecological experience boats for the first time in the country in an effort to minimize damage to wetlands and nature.

Eco-friendly means of transportation, “Sky Cube”.

Sky Cube, an eco-friendly means of transportation connecting Suncheonman National Garden to Suncheonman Bay Wetland, is in operation to limit vehicles entering Suncheonman Bay due to 3 million visitors to Suncheonman Bay every year.

Reeds Trail Expansion

Carbon absorption in salt wetlands such as reed fields is five times higher than that of general forests. The reed forest, which was 500 km2 in 1997, increased to 5,600 km2 due to the continuous conservation projects.

How have the anticipated impacts of climate change been considered?

Turning the riverside into the wetland

Farmers cultivated rice by reclaiming the riverside as farmland, and pesticides were used as needed. It eventually damaged not only wetland creatures but also nearby residents. Suncheon-city has purchased private land along the river and recreated it as a reservoir to use it as a shelter for migratory birds.

Turing the farmland into the wetland

Jeolgang Wetland in Suncheonman Bay was used as agricultural land, but it was recreated as a shelter for migratory birds that matches with the beauty of Jeolgang River.

Turning the sand beach into the wetland.

In Suncheonman Bay, there was a sandy beach where waste soil from the aggregate collecting project was accumulated, and it was left as a garbage disposal site until 2009. Suncheon-city purchased the land from the central government agency and created it as a migratory bird shelter with central government funding

What processes does the initiative include for it to be considerate in its use of soils and other natural resources?

Restoration of inland wetlands in Dongcheon Estuary

In order to expand the Suncheonman Bay biological habitat and create a shelter for migratory birds during high tide, the land around the Suncheonman Bay wetland protection area was purchased by Suncehon city and the wetland restoration was promoted.

Suncheonman Bay Coastal Wetland Restoration

Local residents participate and share benefits through revitalization of the local economy such as high value-added fisheries and ecotourism, as well as expanding the repository of life through mudflats restoration, not just seawater resources distribution.

Suncheonman Bay Clean 365 project

  • Promote a project to strengthen residents’ capabilities to realize the plastic zero zone in Ramsar Wetland.
  • Protect marine life and improve the fishing village environment by reducing marine waste.
  • Inflow garbage and bio-phase investigation by investigating the Suncheonman Bay inflow river filter net and the fish fence.

Monitoring, Maintenance, and Management

How has the initiative been designed and implemented so that long-term needs for management and maintenance are reduced and can be met?

Suncheonman National Garden, an eco-belt, was created in between downtown and Suncheonman Bay and the Suncheonman International Garden Expo was successfully held in 2013 which leads to a sustainable development system that has been established with profits from revitalized the local economy.

Accessibility of Suncheonman Bay’s ecological health is increased to the city centre and the entire city is ecologically remodelled.


  • It was designated as Korea’s first national garden in 2015.
  • It becomes a representative ecotourism destination in Korea with more than 5 million visitors every year, and revitalizes the local economy linked to the city centre.
  • The effect of dispersing visitors directly entering Suncheonman Bay (2.95 million in 2010 → 1.93 million in 2015)
  • The effect of reducing natural disasters using wetlands by creating reservoirs in habitually flooded areas in case of heavy rains.
What protocols are in place to facilitate monitoring of results?

Monitoring hooded cranes wintering in Suncheonman Bay Wetland.

Suncheonman Bay was designated as a wetland protection zone in 2003, and Suncheon City joined The East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) since 2004 to conduct research and monitoring activities (operating programs to observe hooded cranes visiting Suncheonman Bay in winter) and exchange information on habitats.

How has the initiative been enhanced in response to monitoring of results?

(Disaster prevention) Creation of Suncheonman National Garden

  • First, it serves as an ecological line, or eco-belt, to permanently preserve the natural ecosystem of Suncheonman Bay and prevent natural disasters such as habitual flooding in low-lying areas in the city.
  • Second, as a sustainable 21st-century new urban growth model based on biodiversity, it contributes to improving the quality of life of citizens by presenting wetlands and gardens to the city center.
  • Third, it is contributing to revitalizing the local economy by managing tour routes considering Suncheonman Bay’s ecological capacity and expanding visitors’ routes to the city centre and extending their stay time.

(Economic Effect) Economic ripple effect analysis

  • According to academic presentations by experts, the value of ecotourism excluding the ecological value of Suncheonman Bay alone is analysed to be more than 299 billion KRW every year.
  • As a result of estimating the total asset value of Suncheonman National Garden created for the preservation of wetlands in Suncheonman Bay. The total asset value of Suncheon Bay Garden is estimated to be up to 1.97 trillion KRW, at least about 738.9 billion KRW, including 235 billion KRW in basic assets, brand value, environmental value, and direct and indirect economic value.
  • Suncheonman Bay Wetland and Suncheonman National Garden are important ecological resources to revitalize the local economy, and their economic value will increase over time.