|A frog ladder in Warwick, England, offers an escape route to amphibians trapped under roadside drains. Screen capture from YouTube|
By Ko Dong-hwan
A new contraption at Baengnyeongdo Island is saving frogs and other amphibians by giving them an escape route from a concrete-walled ditch. It is not just an ecological concern; it also shines a spotlight on natural preservation in inter-Korean border regions.
Laying six "frog ladders" down drains on the Korean island in western waters was a joint project headed by Bernhard Seliger, director of the Hanns Seidel Foundation's Korean office, and supported by ladder inventor Trevor Rose, secretary of British Herpetological Society, and the heads of four local Korean pro-environment groups.
The project aims to preserve the dwindling number of gold-spotted pond frogs, also known as Seoul frogs, and Suweon tree frogs. The International Union of Conservation of Nature classifies the gold-spotted species as "vulnerable" and Suweon is considered an endangered endemic species.
A large number of the two species were seen in the wetlands of Baengnyeongdo, the country's westernmost island and close to North Korea. The concrete drains trapped some of the creatures, who were unable to climb out and faced being left to "dry and die."
"The frogs are an important part of the island's ecological food chain," Shim Hyung-jin, head of the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements' Incheon office (Incheon KFEM) who was among the project's participants, told The Korea Times. The island is under Incheon city jurisdiction and the organization became the island's watchdog.
"They don't just eat insects that are harmful to agricultural products but also are a food source to certain birds of endangered species. Extinction of one feathery species can wipe out 100 other species in sub-food chains. To protect the entire ecosystem, we must protect the frogs."
|(From left) Bernhard Seliger from the Hanns Seidel Foundation's Korean office, Shim Hyung-jin from Incheon KFEM, Choi Hyun-Ah from the Hanns Seidel Foundation, Trevor Rose, and Nial Moores from Birds Korea, at Baengnyeongdo Island's Jinchon village where they built frog ladders. Courtesy of Incheon KFEM|
Rose's frog ladders were introduced in Warwick, England, in 2018, where amphibians trapped under roadside drains were saved by 20 rust-resistant aluminum ladders. It followed a 2016 report by conservation group Froglife that, along with habitat loss, drain-traps killed 68 percent of frogs in the United Kingdom over the past 30 years.
"They are an overlooked species and they have their role in the ecosystem," Tim Jenkins from the Warwickshire Amphibian and Reptile Team that installed the ladders was cited by Reuters as saying.
"They are absolutely excellent for gardens because they eat lots of invertebrates ― potential pests in your garden."
Here in Korea, Rose, also from Scotland-based Rose Design Services, was invited by Seliger to help with the ladder construction on Jan. 17-18 at the island's Jinchon village. A barbed wire fence demarcating the inter-Korean sea division was only a few hundred meters behind the construction site. The project was also joined by Korean local Birds Korea director Nial Moores and Shim.
Because they had to use materials available on the island, they could not use aluminized sheets ― preferred for thickness ― but opted for galvanized steel sheets. The sheets were cut one meter by 15 centimeters and covered by iron mesh that provided footholds for the amphibians. Six ladders were installed along a 30 meter-long ditch.
Each ladder cost 20,000 won ($17) to build, which Shim said was fairly affordable considering they will build another 40 on the island.
|Rose drills a frog ladder into the concrete wall of a ditch in Baengnyeongdo Island's Jinchon village. Courtesy of Incheon KFEM|
On Jan. 21, Rose moved to Yeoncheon County in Gyeonggi Province, which is also adjacent to the inter-Korean border region and has habitats for gold-spotted and Suweon frogs. He taught local residents how to build the ladders.
Shim said he planned to spread the use of frog ladders nationwide, particularly across the border regions like Cheorwon County and Paju city.
"Our goal is turning the border regions into ecological parks," said Shim. The goal, according to him, is shared by Friends of the Earth Germany, a grassroots non-government eco-friendly organization also known as BUND. The German group visited Seoul in January for a more rigorous discussion about the border regions.
Hanns Seigel has also been highlighting the red-crowned cranes' habitat in Mundeok County in North Korea's South Pyongan Province. Shim said it was a demonstration project by Hanns, who believed that "with preserved ecology comes a stronger economy generating more money."