Although the populations of many species in the Republic of Korea have declined, fewer species have gone extinct than in other similarly developed countries (12). The relative success of Korea’s wildlife provides an opportunity for conservation. However, the country must act quickly; environmental exploitation, absence of protected areas in the regions that need them the most, and ongoing large-scale development projects will soon result in ecological catastrophes and further habitat loss (13). To protect its vulnerable species, Korea must both implement effective policies and raise public awareness about the importance of conservation.

Because Korea’s species have declined relatively recently, straightforward conservation actions are likely to be effective. Korea’s restoration and conservation programs have already improved conditions for Asian black bears (4). Korea should restore population connectivity for long-tailed gorals to combat the high probability of local extirpation (5) as well as supplement nesting materials for black-faced spoonbills to increase the number of breeding pairs at colonies (6). To improve prospects of a broad array of taxa, Korea should protect core habitats of species such as the endemic loach Kichulchoia brevifasciata (7) and migratory songbirds (8) and designate protected sites that include populations of endangered black rat snakes and Suweon tree frogs (910). The Korean government should prioritize key areas such as wetlands, where biodiversity is as high as the development pressure for economic expansion, and the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas, an important ecological corridor connecting different biotopes. Because laws prevent either nation from developing the DMZ, it has essentially functioned as a protected area since its creation, a trait important to maintain in the future.

Despite Korea’s economic and technological advances, the government prioritizes national conservation projects only when they have popular support. For example, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins were kept in captivity until Korean citizens protested, and their release was funded by a tax increase supported by Seoul’s population (1112). The survival of Korean species should not rest only on the shoulders of those raising awareness and educating the public about conservation. It is time to recognize Korea’s neglected biodiversity and expand conservation efforts. Public engagement is important, but political and private-sector involvement should be codified to guarantee protection before it’s too late.



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