IMAGE OF KOREA When the Sea Bares Itself

Tidal flats are the inner skin of the sea. Twice a day, when the horizon swells up and the tide goes out, that secret skin is revealed. Suddenly, the tidal flats are taut and tense. The teeming creatures asleep in all corners of the flats come to life. The silvery scales of fish flap as water birds snatch them with the tips of their beaks. The crabs, dancing with their claws held up high to catch a female’s eye, disappear in a flash and hide in their holes when the seagulls approach.
In the few short hours between the ebbing and the surging of the tide, the people who live off the flats are busy. Pushing their sleds made of wooden slats, they slide and slither across the wide expanse of the mudflats. Hauling plastic buckets carrying digging hoes and forks and nets, the women look out with a sharp glimmer in their eyes. Before the tide comes in and the sun goes down, they have to gather fish in their nets and dig for clams and small octopuses in the mud. The young people have gone to live in the cities, leaving behind the old folks who are wearily drawing hope for their children from the mud with their forklike hands. For them, the tidal flats are both their workplace and their paradise.
On the western and southern coasts of the Korean peninsula, the jagged coastline disperses the force of the waves, leaving sediment to build up and form vast, gently sloping tidal flats. The flats are a habitat for plankton and many varieties of flora as well as countless animal species and waterfowl in danger of extinction. In terms of ecological diversity, the Korean tidal flats are among the top five in the world, along with those on the coast of Georgia in the southeastern United States.
The size of tidal flats everywhere continues to decline, however, because of coastal reclamation and development. Impatient humans are short-sighted and cannot wait for nature to renew itself. But the death of tidal flats would threaten the very origins of human life.
In the summer holiday season, seaside villages run nature tourism programs for city dwellers to experience the tidal flats. Trains of “tidal flat carriages” pulled by tractors transport tourists across the mudflats to a site where they can rent rubber boots, vests, gloves, and digging hoes and forks, as well as a net to hold their catch. The tourists spend a happy day in the mud catching octopuses and digging for clams and other delicacies. Hopefully, this experience of the natural cycle of an ecosystem helps them to realize the preciousness of life.

Kim Hwa-young Literary Critic; Member of the National Academy of Arts
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