South Korea is home to 18 amphibian species. Though it is smaller than the state of Virginia, Korea is home to 48 million people. Such a densely packed human population causes an array of problems for amphibians.
SAVE THE FROGS! Founder Dr. Kerry Kriger spent 10 days in November 2010 touring South Korea, meeting with nonprofits, government officials, scientists and journalists, and visiting wetlands. Dr. Kriger also gave four presentations on amphibian conservation, and was the official representative of the USA at the "Strategies for Biodiversity and Amphibian Conservation Conference" in Seoul. This was Korea's 1st international symposium on amphibian conservation; the goal of the conference was to share information about the amphibian conservation movements in the USA, Korea and Japan, and to build up an international network.
Thanks to EcoClub Korea for sponsoring this trip, as well as Green Korea United, Toad Friends, Wildlife Web, and Korea Network for River and Watershed for hosting the trip and for all their amphibian conservation efforts. We look forward to working with them far into the future to grow the SAVE THE FROGS! movement in South Korea.
by SAVE THE FROGS! Founder Dr. Kerry Kriger
In September, I was invited by EcoClub Korea to come speak in Korea. I did not know the state of Korea's amphibian conservation movement, so I thought it would be great to find out what type of programs they had in the country and spread the word about SAVE THE FROGS!.
I was greeted by my very friendly hosts Young-jin and Kyoung-hee, who took me out for a great Korean Bibimbap dinner.
The next morning, we met with the conference organizers and the Japanese and Korean speakers. I was quickly learning that one does not go hungry while visiting Korea.
We headed over to the National Assembly, where the Korean government is based, and where the conference was being held. Hyun-Tae Kim (left) and Hasegawa Masami (right) were the official representatives of Japan and Korea.
I gave a 40-minute presentation on amphibian extinctions and the work of SAVE THE FROGS!. I was surprised to find out that the manuscript I prepared for the conference had been printed out for just about everybody I met during my stay in Korea. The conference was excellent, and clearly demonstrated that Koreans were interested in protecting amphibians, and indeed already had some active conservation programs.
We had dinner afterwards, and some entertainment.
Hun-su provided a demonstration on the solgum (Korean bamboo flute) I was presented.
Jingu Yeo founded EcoClub Korea in 1998 in order to protect the wilderness in Seoul Province. He is the one who first learned of SAVE THE FROGS!. He found us searching the web last spring and was impressed with our work, so he invited me to Korea. He liked the wristband and pin I gave him.
The next day we left Seoul city and headed north to the Indeogwon Wetlands below Bukhansan Mountain, just outside Eunpyeong. Sang-Su (left) was my translator. I had a couple different translators assigned to me in each city.
The wetland is immediately north of a sprawling sea of skyscraper apartments that fills many of the valleys of the the Seoul region.
We got these views when we climbed the Bukhansan mountain. It looked like a glacier winding down the valley on a collision course with the wetlands.
In 2005 the wetlands were under threat from development: the suburbs were moving outward. EcoClub Korea organized a campaign and got the government to agree to preserve the wetlands. The wetlands are surrounded by a few buildings, as well as roads and artificial waterways, but thanks to EcoClub Korea, they still host six amphibian species.
To celebrate the victory, EcoClub Korea held a Save The Frogs Day event at the site on April 30th, 2010. I had never seen these photos until I arrived in Korea, so I was very excited to find out that the SAVE THE FROGS! movement has spread so far!
We headed up the valley above the wetlands and arrived at the 1,000 year old Jinkwansa Temple.
I liked the art.
These ladies liked the creek, but no frogs were to be found as winter is coming on.
The monks treated us to some tea and rice treats.
They awarded me with the same scarf they had given the G20 leaders who visited them the week prior. I considered becoming a monk, but decided against it.
We moved to a different room for a meal prepared by the monks.
We headed to another room for lunch, and then the third course, a nice fruit plate and tea.
I tested the drum.
The day was still young. We headed to the east side of Seoul to tour the Jiangxi Wetlands, a site on the Han River where EcoClub runs an education center and restores habitat. Ten years earlier, the area had been without any trees, and was poor amphibian habitat that likely looked like the opposite bank of the river currently does
With the assistance of a lot of volunteers and school groups, the wetlands now have a nice amount of vegetation, as well as some man-made frog ponds.
Some of the wetlands' volunteers:
We then headed west to the Gangseo Wetlands on the Han River. The wetlands are situated right in Seoul central, an island of wilderness surrounded by 12 million people. EcoClub has been running education and habitat restoration projects here for nearly a decade. The wetlands are home to the Korean Narrow-Mouth Frogs (Kaloula borealis; known in Korea as the Maengkonyi, for the sound they make). The Narrow-Mouth Frogs are declining around Korea as rice paddies get converted into suburbs, and much of Korea's conservation work is focused on these frogs. This is an artificial waterway that was created to provide frog habitat.
Unfortunately, a major highway runs immediately parallel to the wetlands. The government has plans to do road expansions in preparation for the upcoming Olympics, and the new road would run right on top of the wetlands, destroying a decade of successful amphibian conservation. Will we be able to save the Gangseo Wetland's amphibians?
I suggested the site as an excellent place to hold a Save The Frogs Day event this April, to raise awareness of the proposed road and build public support for an alternative plan. But time is short: the road construction is scheduled for September 2011. With your generous financial support, I am sure we can raise enough public awareness of this issue within Seoul to stop the destructive road-building activities and preserve the Gangeo Wetland and its frogs.
When I learned I was headed to Korea, I thought it would be good to give a presentation to high school students. I emailed Woo Seok Yang (양우석; aka Jack), a high school student who had recently introduced himself and his group (Froggieco) to me. He arranged for me to give a presentation at Eunpyeong High School...
Malo translated my presentation.
After my talk, Froggieco and La-on-je-na (Eunpyeong's all-female environmental group) gave short talks about their work. Froggieco goes to downtown Seoul and educates people in the streets about the plight of the Narrowmouth Frog, and La-on-je-na works in their local community.
We had Dunkin Donuts and I was awarded the Purple Hoodie for my service.
Sunday dawned bright and clear -- at least as clear as it gets with the "Yellow Dust of China" constantly covering the area. I never figured out if it was smog, fog or indeed a yellow dust from China, but the sun always seemed obscured by a white mist. This was my only free day in Korea. I headed to Bukhansan National Park to climb the mountain.
Autumn in Korea, reminded me of Virginia.
Flute for the Frogs.
Apparently Sunday morning is a bad time to be climbing a famous mountain a 45-subway ride away from downtown Seoul. We had a few traffic jams.
We got some nice views.
Flute for the Frogs, Part 2.
We climbed a few different peaks that were connected by a ridge.
We hiked about six hours and arrived at the Samcheonsa Temple, built during the Early Goryeo Dynasty (~1,000 ago). It was set in a narrow valley.
I liked the inside.
The Old Man of the Mountain stood watch.
We closed out the day with a nice meal at the bottom of the national park.
I woke before sunrise for the second straight day and met Kyoung-hee at the train station. We headed to Busan (Korea's second largest city) on the southeast coast. It was about 3 hours on the Express Train.
At the conference I had learned that both Korea and Japan had banned the importation of American Bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana or Lithobates catesbeianus) several years earlier. It kicked me into action and I occupied myself on the train by preparing a proposal for my State Senator asking him to enact a measure to ban the importation and sale of American Bullfrogs into and within the state of California. This would make California the first state in the world to do so. You can read the proposal here. If you would like to submit a similar proposal in your Western US state, please contact us.
We arrived in Busan and were greeted by Wildlife Web, a nonprofit focused on protecting wilderness in the Busan region. They took me to the Samrak Wetlands National Amphibian Conservation Area, which sits on the banks of the Nakdong River. A reporter joined us and I told them about SAVE THE FROGS!
The Samrak Wetlands are surrounded by fields of Chinese Cabbage and the sprawling city of Busan, home to 3.5 million people.
More importantly, the wetlands sit 70 km downstream from the new Four Rivers Hydroelectric Project (aka a large dam), which has altered the hydrology of the region. The government is preparing to alter the river's banks and the construction would put about 20% of the wetlands underwater. I was unable to determine why they had to put the wetlands underwater. Daehyun Choi, Director of Korea Network for River & Watershed, was not very happy about the plans, as the site is home to a healthy population of Narrow-Mouth Frogs, and several other species. Can we save the Samrak Wetlands from this senseless destruction?
Later that day we climbed a small mountain to see some more wetlands, and then I gave a presentation to the members of Wildlife Web and Korea Network for River & Watershed.
We had a good Q&A sesssion. I was happy to learn that Koreans do not eat frog legs. I told them that it wasn't too late to save the Samrak Wetlands, and I'm pretty confident that they will be there April 29th for a Save The Frogs Day event.
Everybody enjoyed the presentation and dialogue -- I know I did!
Everyone was in a good mood after my presentation and we closed out the day with a nice meal.
The alarm clock didn't sound good, but the sunrise over the Korea Strait looked nice.
I caught the train to Daegu, in the center of the country. I was met at the train station by Green Korea United, one of the largest environmental nonprofits in Korea. We went to their office and had tea and tangerines. Sang Hyouk Lee arrived. He had produced an excellent documentary on the Asiatic Toads (Bufo gargarizans) that had been broadcast by the Discovery Channel throughout Asia.
It was extremely well-done
The focus of the documentary was a site called Mangwolji, which sits in Daegu city. Most of Korea's amphibian conservation was clearly focused on conserving urban wildlife habitats. Mangwolji is particularly important because in the spring hundreds of adult Asiatic Toads come to the pond to breed. Several million baby toads emerge from the pond (only a small portion survive) and head to the adjacent mountain, which is their winter home and foraging grounds. I had never heard of a place with so many toads. The toads have done quite well considering they are surrounded on all sides by buildings and roads but in 2007 disaster struck and 600,000 baby toads mysteriously died over a few day period. In 2008, even more toads died. Nobody knew exactly why. We were headed to Mangwolji after lunch.
We ate lunch. It got cut short as I was told that the journalists were waiting.
I was happy and surprised to be greeted by 15 journalists, scientists nonprofit activists and government officials. It seems that there was a huge interest in Mangwolji, and everybody was eager to hear my thoughts. Toads it turns out, are a good luck charm in Korea. When a baby boy is born, people tell them that their child looks like a toad, meaning he's healthy. So when Korea's largest toad population is dying, it gets a lot of attention.
Lee Jae Hyuk of Green Korea United and I stood by the Tomb of the Fallen Toads for a photo shoot, with Mangwolji in the background.
This patch of dirt here is a parking lot, and is one of only two connections with the mountain (which sits behind the temple on the left of the picture). However, the toads only use this migration path. Unfortunately, all the toads were dormant this time of year so I couldn't witness the migration.
We surveyed the pond for a few minutes and then were led into the temple, where tea and fruit awaited. Everybody introduced themselves.
We sat for an hour and discussed strategies for protecting Mangwolji's toads:
-- How to get support from the pond's 14 landowners, who think the land would be much more valuable with a building on top of it;
-- How to manage the pond's banks and migration corridors;
-- Strategies for raising funds to purchase or permanently protect the pond;
-- How to manage the disease threat that was the likely reason for the mass toad deaths in 2007 and 2008;
I think the site clearly qualifies as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and such a listing would make protecting the toad's much easier. If anybody has UNESCO ontacts, please contact us!
I thought the meeting was very productive, and was quite educational for myself as well.
I think I passed the test, because Lee Jae Hyuk invited me to be the Amphibian Advisor for Green Korea United. I was honored and accepted.
The Daegu Times wrote this article about my visit to Mangwolji.
SAVE THE TOADS!
I caught a train Cheongju, an hour to the west. I was greeted by Toad Friends co-founder Wan Hee Park. We had dinner and then my interpreter Moon invited me to stay at his place. I appreciated the hospitality, and we had fruit and tea with his wife and friends. I hadn't had much email or phone access during the trip thus far. I logged in to my email at Moon's house...my timing was excellent as BBC Radio 5 Live had just emailed me asking for an interview about Save The Frogs Day. They wanted to go live in 2 hours (1:15am) to talk about Save The Frogs Day, which coincides with Prince William's newly announced marriage. I had been up since sunrise but said sure -- it's not often you have an audience of 3 million listeners! You can listen to the BBC interview on the SAVE THE FROGS! Audio page.
I knew things would be interesting when I saw a Toad Mart.
It was across the streetfrom Cheongju's "Toad Ecological Culture Center", run by Toad Friends. The Center is surrounded by very large buildings.
Mr. Park gave me a slideshow presentation about the history of the Toad Ecological Culture Center, and the toads in the Wonheung pond (which sits immediately behind the Center). Until 2005, Wonheung was just fields and rice paddies, and the pond, which was home to 500 adult Asiatic Toads. The toads would breed in the pond and produce about a million baby toads that would migrate to the mountain seen below.
But in 2003, the government announced plans to put two large court buildings immediately between the pond and the mountain, and land development company announced plans to put skyscraper apartment buildings at the other end of the pond, covering up toad habitat and blocking migration routes. A coalition of environmentalists was formed to fend off the government's plans. 50,000 signatures were collected, but the government and developers refused to budge. So 2,000 protesters gathered at the pond. One man stood in front of a bulldozer.
The protests were unsuccessful, but I was quite amazed by the fact that 2,000 people gathered to defend a pond. Would that happen in America? I'm sure that beautiful ponds get bulldozed on a daily basis in suburbs around the world, but perhaps we have become immune to the destruction around us, willing to let the natural world slip away pond by pond, forest by forest, toad by toad. Part of the development compromise was that the government would partially fund an educational center beside the pond, and thus the Toad Ecological Culture Center was born. You can read about the Toad Center in this PDF.
We headed out back to survey the pond area. This is an artificial pond that was built next to the main pond.
Choong Ho Ham, one of the Center's biologists demonstrated the radio-tracking device they use to find toads that have they have equipped with transmitters. The transmitters allow them to study the toads' movements when they leave the pond area.
The two government buildings that went up next to the pond. The mountain the toads use sits behind the building.
There were educational signs around the pond, and I was told that all the citizens of Cheongju know about the pond's toads. 5,000 students visit the pond each year to help plant trees and restore habitat. I was pretty blown away. Can you imagine everyone in your town knowing about the plight of amphibians? One of my goals has been for SAVE THE FROGS! to make Santa Cruz the most frog-friendly city in the world -- we clearly have a long way to go! We'll be working with Toad Friends to make Cheongju and Santa Cruz official Sister Cities, so we can more effectively share ideas on how to protect each city's frogs and toads.
Some birds had caught a lizard and set it on a plant to be eaten later.
Mr. Park showed me the main pond, and the skyscrapers that went up just behind it. It looked like a tough place to be a toad. He said the population was down to 50 breeding adults, a 90% decrease from pre-development levels. I asked him if he thought we could get the numbers up if we improved the migration paths to the mountain. He said the main problem that there was simply less habitat then there used to be: the buildings sit where toads used to live.
I talked with the journalist who had joined us. The Korean groups had done a great job getting jounalists to stop in each day I was there.
I was handed the radio-transmitter and we went on a toad search. All the toads are burrowed this time of year so this was the only way to find them.
Here it is, the moment you've all been waiting for, the picture of the only amphibian I saw in Korea! We had to dig a few inches down to find the toad. That is part of the toad's back. We didn't want to disturb his winter's sleep, so we let him be and didn't dig any deeper. I was happy to have seen my first live Korean amphibian! A true survivor at that.
We had lunch and then headed to the Toad Friends office, which had nicely painted windows.
We drove ten minutes to the opposite side of the mountain from Wonheung pond. Things were looking bleak there. The developers had already cleared out former Narrow-Mouth Frog habitat, and were deep in the process of constructing new skyscraper apartments.
It was not a pleasant scene.
We headed to another site. It was surrounded by small buildings but was still good Narrow-Mouth Frog habitat:
But the government wants to put an Education Administration building on top of the site. Mr. Park was petitioning the government to change it's plans but he didn't seem very optimistic. I thought it was crazy: there were no buildings in the city that could be rented out? No other places to put a new building? I asked Mr. Park how many frogs he thought lived at the site. One hundred he said. At first I thought "Oh, that's not that many", but then I wondered if we would accept the death of 100 humans to satisfy someone's desire to have a conveniently located building. Probably not. So frog habitat gets stamped out, one wetland at a time.
I told Mr. Park that if he could get 2,000 protesters to show up five years ago (before the Toad Ecological Culture Center had been built and before all of their educational programs), then they should be able to get a huge number of supporters if they were to initiate a campaign to raise awareness of the site's impending destruction. I suggested a large Save The Frogs Day event at the site, and offered to help him get the word out. If we can't save the frogs in the world's most toad-friendly city, then what chance do we have elsewhere? I'm sure with your financial support, we can Toad Friends and SAVE THE FROGS! can save Cheongju's Narow-Mouth Frogs, so please go become a SAVE THE FROGS! Member or make a generous tax-deductible contribution to our efforts. Thanks!
We headed back to the Center and I gave a SAVE THE FROGS! presentation to the Center's volunteers and a couple government officials.
Mr. Park and I exchanged gifts.
I caught a bus to Seoul. The next day I met up with my EcoClub Korea hosts and discussed some collaboration strategies to strengthen Korea's amphibian conservation habitats. We had a nice lunch and headed to the airport. I felt very happy about how the trip had gone, and look forward to growing the SAVE THE FROGS! movement in South Korea.
A note from Jack, one of the founders of Froggieco, which is based at Daewon Foreign Language High School:
"I work to conserve narrow mouthed frogs with my 4 peers. We are highly informed that the species of narrow mouthed frogs are now endangered, and it is acknowledged both domestically and internationally. Our team is named "Froggieco," and I would like to say we are all pleased to meet you working in this field. We, 5 members of Froggieco, are a very competitive team among dozens of teams which applied for the contest held by the ministry of Environment of Korea. We own a blog, we advertise, and we work vigorously both offline and online. We recently even advertised to the chairman of Korean national assembly on this matter, and he proposed to sponsor us."