26 Feb

The Korean DMZ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Thomas Jang

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separates the Korean Peninsula into two countries: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north and the Republic of Korea in the south. Constructed following the ceasefire of the Korean War on July 27, 1953, it roughly follows latitude 38 degrees N (the 38th parallel), the former border between the two Koreas, and extends for 250 kilometers (160 miles) with a width of 4 kilometers (2.5 miles). 

The zone includes a physical border and two other buffer areas that covers a total area of 907 square kilometers, an area equivalent to twice the size of New York City! Inside the DMZ is the dividing border called the Military Demarcation Line, represented in dark gray. Next is the Civilian Control Zone, represented in medium gray. Finally, the border area is represented in light gray. Dividing families, villages, and former railroad lines, the DMZ also intersects rivers, swamps, marshes, and mountains that have produced high levels of biodiversity due to the absence of human activity. On the other hand, areas closer to the border have experienced stagnant economic and agricultural activity. 

Surveys that began in the late 1990’s have recorded a total of 2,900 animal and plant species, 82 of which are rare and endangered. In fact, the zone has become home to several species of crane, including the red-crowned crane and white-naped crane, which are severely endangered in other parts of the world. In 2016, the DMZ Botanic Garden was established to research and conserve geographically-northern and rare endemic plants that are found in high altitudes on mountains on the South Korean side. 

Oversight from UN Command and restrictions to access to the DMZ have unfortunately made it difficult to conduct studies inside the zone. Studies rely heavily on current research conducted in the Civilian Control Zone. Both the presence of rare and endangered flora and fauna have developed efforts by local governments and conservationists to turn the DMZ into a conservation zone and peace park.