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Upo Wetland located in Changnyeong-gun County, Gyeongsangnam-do Province, is the largest riverine wetland in the Republic of Korea with a well preserved natural environment. The area of Upo Wetland spans about 2.3km2 and many smaller wetlands are scattered around. In recognition of its values as a migratory bird habitat, the wetland has been inscribed on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance in 1998, and during the 10th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP10) held in 2008, many experts visited the wetland.
The creation of Upo Wetland dates back to when the Korean peninsula was formed. It has provided people with a means of livelihood, while retaining its well-preserved primitive ecosystem. In addition, the wetland plays an important role as a habitat for more than 10 endangered species, a fact that draws global attention. The beautiful landscape surrounding the wetland area increases the invaluable aspect of the wetland as a rich repository of the primitive ecosystem.
Recent archaeological discoveries such as an old wooden boat found in Bibongri Shell Mound Site confirm that in the past the inland area of Changnyeong region was affected by the intrusion of sea water that flowed along the Nakdonggang River. The small riverine marshes surrounding Upo were also created in this process. The shell mounds are very important evidence in understanding the creation of Upo and its adjacent wetlands. The wooden boat found in the shell mound is estimated to be 7500 years old, which places it amongst the world's oldest boats such as those found in Kuwait and China (8000~7000 years). The shell mounds, a pit for storing acorns and fishery tools, are believed to have been used by people in communities who lived along the seashore, being evidence of prehistoric lifestyles in this area. Besides, other archeological discoveries including stone pestles, grinding stones, wooden goods, pottery shards and a mesh bag significantly enhances the site's archeological value.
These archeological relics prove the previous interaction with sea water in this area which is now regarded as a freshwater zone, and also provides a glimpse of lifestyles of the Neolithic era. It also reveals how the relationship between the wetland and human beings has changed with the flow of time.
(vii) Contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance
The aesthetic value of Upo Wetland, derived from its cultural, geographical and ecological features, is significantly high. Numerous aquatic plants and migratory birds are observed in the site every season, and due to the site's particular position as an important migratory route connecting between Asia and Australia, the wetland and its surrounding areas are utilized as a natural resource for ecological education. In addition, the geological features formed by low hills surrounding the wetland are home not only to migratory birds but also to a variety of plants and animals, creating an outstanding landscape. The site is designated as an Ecological Conservation Area by the Korean government.
At the site, water plants grow in spring, and in autumn water fog is formed due to temperature difference between water and air. In winter, an internationally significant group dance of migratory birds can be observed being a way station of the Asia-Australia migratory route, and the whole site can be viewed from a viewing platform. The water fog seen in the morning, in particular, is a popular attraction and explains the old history and varied features of Upo Wetland.
(x) Contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation
Upo Wetland is recognized and protected as an important habitat for migratory birds, and was listed as a Ramsar site in 1998 and has since also been protected according to the Ramsar Convention. As many as 180 bird species are observed in Upo Wetland, and among them are endangered species particularly inscribed on the IUCN Red Data Book such as Anas falcate and Anas formosa . In the case of Anas falcate , almost 8 percent of the world population is believed to inhabit in the area. As the wetland is very well-protected, it serves as a way station of the migratory birds which visit the wetlands distributed in the neighboring area to feed themselves. As a key site for local biodiversity, Upo Wetland is serving an important function.
The bird species observed in the area include several endangered species designated by the Korean government, including Platalea leucorodia (first-class endangered species), Anser fabalis , Cygnus cygnus , Cygnus olor , Anas formosa , Falco subbuteo and Charadrius placidus (second-class endangered species).
After the Ramsar COP10 meeting in 2008, a project for restoring the Crested ibis (Nipponia nippon ) was launched in Upo Wetland. Crested ibis, once widely distributed in Northeast Asia including Korea, was believed to be extinct in this site, but have been restored recently with successful spawning and breeding. This also contributes to maintaining the biodiversity of Northeast Asia. The restoration project began with a pair of crested ibises, donated by the Chinese President Hu Jintao, as a gift of friendship.
Once the number increases up to 50 to 100, the birds will be released into the wild, and its entire population is expected to be restored in the outstanding natural environment of Upo Wetland. If the project turns out to be a success, Upo Wetland will emerge as an important site for the birds, which links Yangxian county of China and Sado island of Japan.
The colony of Euryale ferox Salisb . formed in Upo Wetland exhibits how significant this site is from a biodiversity point of view. The water plant, the only species in the genus, is known to inhabit in northern India, China, Taiwan, and Korea. And the colony in Upo is one of the largest of its kind in East Asia. In Korea, the colonies, which numbered over 100, are disappearing, and the Upo colony is now under protection of the Korean government.
Upo Wetland and the area of Changnyeong County is an important area not only from an archaeological and paleontological point of view but also as a way station of migratory birds that travel between Asia and Australia.
Upo is a natural wetland formed by water flowing from the Topyeongcheon Stream rising in Mt. Hwawangsan and the backflow from the Nakdonggang River during floods. The water level of Upo is maintained by Topyeongcheon at ordinary times, but during a flood, it partly rises due to the water flowing backwards from Nakdonggang. After drainage, a new environment is created, where plants and animals can inhabit with high stability. Moreover, large farmland, low mountains and hills, small-scale marshes and Nakdonggang are organically connected surrounding the wetland, thus creating a place where the plants and animals can feed and habitat against a hinterland, ensuring the sustainability of the area's ecosystem. The fact that several endangered species and vulnerable species including whopper swans, bean gooses, hooded cranes and falcated teals spend the winter here proves the high integrity of this site as a natural riverine wetland of the Nakdonggang.
For the preservation of its ecosystem, Upo Wetland is legally protected by the Korean government and international community. In 1995, it was inscribed on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, and the Korean government designated the site as a Natural Reserve, a Protected Wetland Area, and an Ecological Landscape Preservation Area to protect the site with legal institutions.
Geologically speaking the Korean peninsula is relatively stable, thus wetlands and lakes are rare, with most of them located in the Southeastern part of the country. Usually, wetlands are found along the coastline, but Upo Wetland was created inland, boasting its huge scale as the largest natural continent wetland of Korea. Compared to its similar kind mostly located in mountains, Upo Wetland was formed on the level ground where a tributary of the river became narrow caused by the change in sea level. The Upo area is almost the only wetland in Korea that retains its function as a natural wetland until today.
The outstanding value of Upo Wetland is evident especially in its scale and biodiversity. In comparison with its neighboring Junam Reservoir, Hwapocheon Wetland and other mountainous marshes, the high biodiversity of Upo is noticeable. As the largest riverine wetland sustainably connected with the stream, Upo Wetland provides the best environment for species in its vast area.
There are a total of 41 wetlands inscribed on the World Heritage List, and most of those sites boast high biodiversity and beautiful landscapes. For example, the Bird Migratory Routes (Lake Bardawil) in Egypt have two saline lagoons that are connected and are designated as a Ramsar site. The site provides a spawning bed for mullet, an important fishery resource, and a total of 244 species of 500,000 migratory birds utilize this area as their habitat. The Ligawasan Marsh in the Philippines, involving three marshes and a large flood plain, supports the two endangered species - the Philippine Duck (Anas luzonica ) and the Philippine crocodile. The Upper Sepic River Basin in Papua New Guinea is a site that remains intact without artificial interruption, where no construction was conducted such as dams, weirs and industrial complexes, with the beautiful landscape of the natural rainforest spanning hundreds of kilometers. Georgia's Colchis Wetlands and Forests, which also satisfy the Ramsar Criteria, retain its original state of nature, providing an excellent habitat in the tropical environment.
Comparing to the abovementioned sites, Upo Wetland and its surrounding area deserve to be protected, given its high biodiversity and beautiful landscape that comes from seasonal change. The site was listed on the Ramsar List in 1998, and is home to about 1,500 species of animals and plants. In particular, the Euryale ferox Salisb ., an endangered plant occupies 625,000m2 of the area and other 28 kinds of endangered wildlife animals such as white-tailed sea eagles and hooded cranes also inhabit the area. The well-protected nature of the site provides the best environment for many plants and animals. Such well-preserved nature also influenced human life, which is evidenced by local residents who still protect the natural environment when they catch fish by utilizing traditional boats and methods.
Besides containing high biodiversity and excellent habitats, Upo Wetland is distinctive for its aesthetic beauty of many species seen in the distinguishable change of four seasons; one can witness a variety of birds, plants and water fog in Upo in every season. Upo Wetland is an important habitat for many plants and animals and its archaeological, cultural and paleontalogical values exhibit the uniqueness of the site.