Course:EOSC311/2020/Jeju Island and UNESCO Labels

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This page will utilize a geological analysis of Jeju Island to better understand the residents of the island as well as the tourists from an anthropological approach. Due to the brevity of this page, not all aspects of Jeju Island's societal history nor geological features will be included.

Satellite image of Jeju Island.

Jeju Island is located south of the Korean Peninsula and is the largest island in South Korea.

Connection Between Geology and Anthropology

The two fields relate to each other more specifically due to the effects that pre-existing geological features can have on an area's residents and their way of life. As we will see in Jeju's history, there is no written record of specific interactions between residents and the more unique aspects of the island. It is not until the rise of travel and international conflicts that lead to larger conflicts on the island, this includes tourism as well as military pressure. It also seems that without the knowledge of other landscapes in the world, people do not have anything to compare the features of Jeju Island to. Thus, they don't realize the value of their own land.

However, the residents of this island have always been making use of the abundant natural resources provided to them and have managed their usage levels very well.

Geological History of Jeju Island


The formation of Jeju Island occurred in several stages and over almost a million years. At the beginning, the area consisted of just the shelf floor of the Eurasian plate. The subducting Philippine oceanic plate is southeast of the area and the subducting Pacific plate is just east of the Phillipine plate. Due to the nature of subduction zones, many arc volcanoes are formed in this area and other volcanoes are dispersed randomly near these plate boundaries. Jeju Island is the result of just a handful of these volcanoes.[1]

Prior to any eruptions, this area of the shelf floor was known as the "U Formation," short for "Unconsolidated Formation." It was sediments of mud and sand that were slowly deposited up until the first eruption, 1.2 million years ago.[2]

Exposed area of the Seogwipo Formation on the eastern shore of the island.

This first eruption resulted in 100 metre-thick formation of volcanic basalt. This formation is better known as the Seogwipo Formation. This formation is incredibly important as it underlies the entirety of Jeju Island. On the island today, the formation is only exposed above the sea along southern areas of the shoreline.[2] Since this is the very first feature of the island to be formed, researchers found lots of valuable information from samples of the rock and were able to properly approximate the age of the formation and the areas subsequent volcanic eruptions.[3] From many samples of boreholes of the Formation, we also know that the formation of the island consisted of repetitive volcanic activity that occurred within the sea.[4]

The second stage of eruptions formed the main body of the island. This occurred 700,000 years ago. Lava pushed through the Seogwipo Formation and slowly spread out on top to form a large plateau. More acute eruptions formed some of the distinct features of the island today. This includes Sanbang-San (Mt. Sanbang), Byeoldo-bong (Byeoldo Peak), and Dan-san (Dan Mountain).[2]

In the next stages, the lowlands of the coast form as well as the iconic Hallasan (Mt. Halla). The lowlands formed from magma that had low levels of viscosity, meaning that it flowed easier than regular magma and thus flowed farther down the island to form the shores that are present today. At this point, Hallasan stood less than 1,000 metres high but would soon grow significantly in the next stage of eruptions. The mountain's final current elevation is 1,950 metres above sea level.[2][5]

In the final stage of the island's formation, the famous Oreum (Lava Tubes) were formed. They were formed from the path of lava flowing into the ocean. These Oreum are now popular tourist attractions and UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites. However, they also provide valuable information with unique rock formations that can be applied to volcanism around the world.[2][6][7][8]


Jeju Island is the only place in the world to receive all three of UNESCO's labels which recognize the significance of the island to the field natural science.[9] Having all three of these labels earns the island the UNESCO triple crown. [10][11][12] The three distinguished labels are the Global Geopark, the Biosphere Reserve, and the World Natural Heritage Site. Each of these labels has their own set of criteria and Jeju Island was awarded each of them in different years.

What is UNESCO?

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. They exist to build peace internationally by utilizing strategies to provide global education and shared knowledge about sciences and culture.

"Since wars begin in the minds of men and women, it is in the minds of men and women that the defences of peace must be constructed."[13]

Jeju Island Biosphere Reserve Area Map

These three UNESCO labels exist to preservation and to highlight their significance to different fields of study.

Biosphere Reserve

A Biosphere Reserve is a site that contributes to a global understanding of the relationship between social and ecological systems. They are used to test interdisciplinary approaches to sustainable development. The entire network of the Biosphere Reserves work together to create solutions at a smaller, local level that can be applied to global issues.[14] Biosphere Reserves consist of a core area, a buffer zone, and a transition zone.

Jeju Island received its Biosphere Reserve designation in 2002. It was the first UNESCO designation that the island received. The core area consists of Hallasan and two stream corridors, the buffer zone is the area directly surrounding Hallasan as well as three islets, Beomseom, Munseom, and Seopseom.[15] These three islets are south of the Seogwipo area on the south side of the main island. As stated earlier, this southern area is where the Seogwipo formation is exposed.

World Heritage

UNESCO's World Heritage Convention was adopted in 1972 and is a treaty that countries can sign to protect sites that are culturally important. Sites that are in immediate danger of extinction or a different emergency receives assistance from UNESCO. This treaty aims to increase international cooperation to conserve sites of cultural and natural heritage around the world.[16]

Jeju island has received designations of three different sites in 2007.[17] The World Heritage site is called Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes and includes three different sites that each have their own designation. These sites are Geomunoreum, the system of lava tube caves, Seongsan Ilchulbong tuff cone (Sunrise Peak), and Hallasan. These specific sites were chosen due to their "distinctive and important contribution to the understanding of global volcanism."[18] Although the sites have unequalled geological quality, the knowledge we can derive from them are still applicable to sites in other parts of the world.

Stalactites and stalagmites that can be found in the Geomunoreum lava tubes.
Seongsan Ilchulbong taken at 8:00 am.

Global Geopark

Similar to the other two kinds of UNESCO designations, the Global Geopark serves to enhance local and global awareness of sustainable forms of development. The main method is a holistic one, meaning that it includes knowledge and observations from many different schools of thought. Global Geoparks are used to "empower local communities" so they can help promote significant geological processes which can be taken a step further by increasing tourism, to increase international understanding.[19]

Jeju Island received its Global Geopark designation in 2010 and also received the title of "UNESCO's triple crown." Unlike the Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage labels, the Global Geopark label covers all of Jeju island rather than certain sites or designating core areas. A description of what Global Geoparks are and what criteria earned Jeju Island this designation.[11]


As well as having the triple crown of UNESCO, Jeju Island also contains five RAMSAR certified Wetlands of International Importance sites![20]

Societal History of Jeju Island


Here I will discuss the increase in tourism and the effects it had on residents and their economy. Below are a some points that may be discussed:

Soon after Jeju Island's triple crown was announced, they received more and more visitor each year, up to 15 million in tourists in some years. This causes the only international airport on the island exceeded their maximum capacity many times. Thus, the government was prompted to propose plans for a second airport to allow for even more visitors as well as to offload some of the air traffic from the original airport. The construction was slated to be complete by 2035 and the island would be able to triple their maximum numbers of tourists, hoping to achieve 45 million tourists. To put those amounts to scale, the population of the island is 660,000. Although a second airport sounds like a good plan for the islands' economy, many residents opposed of the plan worrying that more visitors would destroy the natural beauty of the island. Many residents also feel that the current amount of tourists is already overwhelming and that the island has already been damaged.[21]

To many Western societies, Hawaii is the ideal vacation getaway and many do not know of Jeju Island. However, from the perspective of those in Asian countries, Jeju Island is on the same level as Hawaii. In fact, the air route from Seoul to Jeju City, the capital of Jeju Island, was the busiest in the world in 2017. That year, almost 65,000 flights were made between the two major cities.[22] Much of the tourism that Jeju Island receives is domestic but they also receive lots of tourists from China due to the no-visa entry requirement. In fact, along with having a nice vacation in Jeju, many Chinese citizens take the South Korean driver's license exam too. This became a large enough trend that some tourism companies even offered getaway packages that were centered around taking the exam. China allows other nation licenses o be exchanged for a local permit. Many tourists that did this, felt that the licensing exam in China was significantly harder than the Korean one. Soon enough, criticism was raised against the South Korean exam and it was revamped. However, even after this change, the Chinese licensing exam was still harder than the South Korean one.[23]

Conflict on the Island

As well as a the opposition of more tourism by the residents, there has also been historical protests that have taken place as well as other historical events of conflict.

In 1948, an election in South Korea was scheduled by the UN for the creation of a new government in Korea. This caused an uprising from those that supported North Korea's more communist ways, those supporters protested the elections and some even report that they attacked police stations and opposing youth groups.[24][5] Regardless, the U.S. overseers along with the elected president labelled the residents of the island as supporters of North Korea and initiated a cleansing campaign. This campaign killed approximately 30,000 people, almost 15 percent of the island's population.[25] This is a part of the dark past that is entirely unknown to the majority of island visitors today.

More recently, in 2011, the South Korean government worked with the U.S. military to construct a large naval base in Gangjeong village near Seogwipo city on the south side of the island. The purpose of the base is to provide a faster response to threats from North Korea.[24] Since the proposal of the plan in 2011, many protests have occurred. Unfortunately, the construction continued its progress and proceeded to open in February of 2016.[26][27][28] Although this may be more recent news, many tourists are most likely unaware of this event.


It can be argued that the UNESCO labels brought more conflict to Jeju Island by promoting tourism. Understanding UNESCO's perspective as to why these designations are made is just as important as understanding the Jeju Island history and past conflicts. Without both sides of the story it is difficult to support any side of the argument and to properly preserve the geological features that allow the area to thrive in the first place.

Although UNESCO uses their resources to promote education and preservation of sustainability, cultural heritage, and the natural world, Many aspects of the cultures that live with UNESCO sites are constantly going through conflict that is not addressed at all. Cultural heritage does not only consist of a culture's positive aspects, negative aspects whether in the past or present are just as important to the development and preservation of that culture. These negative events should not be forgotten, instead they should be more widely known in order for a global understanding of cultural development and for others around the world to be prepared if a similar event were to ever occur to their own culture.


  1. Song, J.-H., Kim, S., Rhie, J., Lee, S.-H., Kim, Y., & Kang, T.-S. (2018). Imaging of lithospheric structure beneath Jeju Volcanic Island by teleseismic traveltime tomography. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 123, 6784–6801.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Thacker, T. (2011, March 26). The Seogwipo Formation, Jeju's Foundation. The Jeju Weekly.
  3. Li, B. Park, B, -K., Kim, D. Woo, H. J. (1999). The geological age and paleoenvironment of the lower Seogwipo Formation, Cheju Island, Korea. Geosciences Journal, 3, 181.
  4. Sohn, Y. K., Park, K. H. (2004). Early-stage volcanism and sedimentation of Jeju Island revealed by the Sagye borehole, SW Jeju Island, Korea. Geosciences Journal, 8, 73.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Jeju Island. (2020, June 16). In Wikipedia.
  6. Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes. (2020, June 4). In Wikipedia.
  7. Geomunoreum Lava Tube System. (2019, Dec. 26). In Wikipedia.
  8. EBSCulture (EBS 교양). (2015, May 22). Cultural Heritage Korea(세계유산 시리즈) - EP03. Jeju Volcanic Island And Lava Tubes [Video]. Youtube.
  9. ARIRANG NEWS. (2016, Oct. 3). Jeju, UNESCO world natural heritage site [Video]. Youtube.
  10. Yun, K. (2015). The Economic imperative of UNESCO recognition: A South Korean shamanic ritual. In M. D. Foster & L. Gilman (Eds.), UNESCO on the Ground (pp. 41-58). Indiana University Press.
  11. 11.0 11.1 UNESCO. (n.d.). Jeju Island UNESCO Global Geopark (Republic of Korea). UNESCO Global Geoparks. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  12. ARIRANG CULTURE. (2016, Dec. 5). Arirang Special _ Jeju _ Hallasan Mountain, Seongsan Ilchulbong Tuff Cone [Video]. Youtube.
  13. UNESCO. (n.d.). UNESCO in brief - Mission and Mandate. UNESCO.
  14. UNESCO. (n.d.). What are Biosphere Reserves?. UNESCO Biosphere Reserves.
  15. UNESCO. (n.d.). Jeju Island Biosphere Reserve, Republic of Korea. UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  16. UNESCO. (n.d.). About World Heritage. UNESCO World Heritage Convention.
  17. BBC News. (2007, June 28). Unesco names World Heritage sites. BBC News.
  18. UNESCO. (n.d.). Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes. UNESCO World Heritage Convention. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  19. UNESCO. (n.d.). What is a UNESCO Global Geopark?. UNESCO Global Geoparks.
  20. RAMSAR. (n.d.). Republic of Korea. The RAMSAR Convention Secratariat.
  21. Jung, M. H. (2018, Jan 3). Jeju suffers from 'too many tourists'. The Korea Times. Retrieves June 1, 2020.
  22. Murray, T. (2018, Jul 20). The world's busiest air route is between Seoul and the 'South Korean Hawaii'. Business Insider. Retrieved June 1, 2020.
  23. Craig, E. (2018, Oct 1). The unusual reason Chinese tourists are going to S Korea: Why the 'Hawaii of Korea' is growing in popularity as a getaway for drivers looking for a fast easy, exam. BBC Worklife. Retrieved June 1, 2020.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Kitchen, T. (2014, Aug. 12). Korea's Jeju Island, a Vacation Worth the Fight. Korean Language Blog.
  25. Müller, A. R. (2011, Apr 19). An introduction to Jeju: One island village's struggle for land, life and peace. Save Jeju Now. Retrieved June 1, 2020.
  26. Lee, H. J. (2016, Feb. 29). Jeju naval base. The Korea Herald.
  27. Yoon, H. R. (2017, Jan 3). Jeju naval base construction, Republic of Korea. Environmental Justice Atlas. Retrieved June 3, 2020.
  28. Reckinger, C. (2014). Protest and resilience on World Peace Island: The nonviolent resistance of a South Korean village against the construction of a naval base. Regions & Cohesion / Regiones Y Cohesión / Régions Et Cohésion, 4(1), 72-91.
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