Dokdo to receive the curious, the patriotic

One of the Dokdo islands will soon open up to tourists, more a symbolic gesture to assert Korea’s sovereignty over the islands than a real attempt to open it up to tourism. Never before have the two small islands in the East Sea been so much in the limelight. Dokdo became a rallying point of patriotic fever when Shimane Prefecture in Japan on March 16 designated a “Takeshima Day” (Japanese refer to Dokdo as Takeshima), bringing to a head the on-and-off public contention between Korea and Japan over the sovereignty of the islands.

The Cultural Heritage Administration, which oversees the Dokdo islands and has maintained them as a natural area, has lifted restrictions on entry to Dongdo (East Island), and starting April 30 the public can start visiting. Seodo (West Island) will continue to be off-limits.

In order to preserve the pristine natural environment of Dongdo, the number of visitors will be limited to 140 per day, 70 persons on each docking. No overnight stays will be allowed. Although no definite plans have been announced yet, tourists will be led by a guide and their visits will be limited to areas where there are man-made paths.

To preserve the island’s natural state, the Cultural Heritage Administration said no new buildings will be built. Only remodeling of existing structures will be allowed. Seung Hyo-sang, an acclaimed architect, has been put in charge of the remodeling project. Currently, the nearest a person can get to Dokdo is by joining a sightseeing cruise that departs once a week from the neighboring Ulleungdo island, about 90 kilometers from Dokdo.

The excursions on March 26 and April 3, which depart at 2 p.m. and return at 5 p.m., are nearly fully booked, according to Daea Travel Service Co. ((054) 252-9100), which operates the service. It will become easier to book trips once the company begins offering daily excursions starting April 5. The fare is 37,500 won.

Ulleungdo island has an observation tower from which visitors can get a view of the Dokdo islands. On a very clear day, which unfortunately is only about 50 days a year, the islands can be seen with the naked eye. Dokdo Museum ( on Ulleungdo island, which opened in 1997, has a wealth of material on Dokdo.

The Dokdo islands, which are volcanic outcroppings, consist of Dongdo, Seodo and some 30 adjacent rock islands. The islands were formed over the Tertiary (65 million years ago-2 million years ago) and Quaternary (2 million years ago-present) Cenozoic era. Their geological features are similar to Ulleung – the upper layer formed of trachyte and tuff and the lower layer made up of basalt.

Administratively, the Dokdo islands are part of Ulleung-eup, Ulleung-gun of North Gyeongsang Province. Their total area is 180,902 square meters.

Most of the man-made facilities on the islands, including the manned lighthouse, water tank, generator, heliport and the Dokdo guard post are located on Dongdo. The smaller of the two islands, Dongdo is 98 meters above sea level at its highest point and measures 1.9 kilometers in circumference and 67,179 square meters in area. A volcanic crater in the central part of the island reaches down to the sea level and connects to the sea via a cave.

The strait between Dongdo and Seodo is 150 meters wide, 330 meters long and less than 10 meters deep. Seodo which is 95,008 square meters in area, stretches 300 meters east to west. It is also the taller of the two islands, standing 168.5 meters above sea level at its highest point. It has a circumference of 2.8 kilometers. It has very steep cliff faces on all four sides, making it virtually impossible to reach the top of the island.

(Birds) A crossroads of bird migration routes, the Dokdo islands are the only places in the East Sea that offer habitats for storm petrels, streaked shearwaters and black-tailed seagulls. Sixty-four species of birds have been sighted on the island but experts believe there are many more. While the number of streaked shearwaters on the islands is in decline, the black-tailed seagull community is expanding, particularly along the southwest cliff faces of Dongdo. According to the Cultural Heritage Administration, the black-tailed seagull community is estimated at 2,000 to 3,000.

(Vegetation) Sixty-nine plant species have been discovered on the Dokdo islands. Rare species found on the islands that are not found on nearby Ulleungdo include maple-leaved goosefoot, warrigal greens, Manchurian baby’s breath, orange stone crops, spindle trees and sheep fescues, among others.

(Marine life) The waters surrounding Dokdo islands are a rich fishing ground with squid, sardine, globefish and fluke in abundance. Abalone, conch and mussels are also readily found here, as are sea cucumbers and shrimp. There is also a thriving marine plant life such as laver, kelp and agar-agar. About 20,000 tons of marine products are caught around Dokdo annually. By Kim Hoo-ran


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