Wando-gun County, Jeollnam-do Province, on Sept. 15 was designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve. (Wando-gun County Office)

Wando-gun County in Jeollanam-do Province has been designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

The Ministry of Environment on Sept. 15 said the designation came at a session of the International Coordinating Council of the 33rd UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program in the Nigerian capital of Abuja. Wando-gun is the ninth location in Korea to gain the status.

A biosphere reserve is a protected area with excellent ecosystems and where communities participate in projects to preserve eco-diversity and sustainable development. UNESCO designates such reserves as well as world heritage and global geoparks.

Located on the southwest coast, Wando-gun comprises 265 islands -- 55 uninhabited and 210 inhabited. Covering 403,899 hectares, the entire county has been designated a biosphere reserve.

Taking about five hours to reach from Seoul by car, the county is considered a domestic fishing mecca. Its abalone production accounts for 80% of the country's total for the item, while that for marine algae such as kelp and seaweed take up 60%.

Mud flats that form on each coastline actively purify the sea.

The nine biosphere reserves in Korea are Sorak (Seoraksan) Mountain in the city of Sokcho and the counties of Goseong-gun, Yangyang-gun and Inje-gun of Gangwon-do Province; Jeju Island; Shinan Dadohae in Shinan-gun County, Jeollanam-do; Gwangneung Forest in the cities of Namyangju, Uijeongbu and Pocheon, Gyeonggi-do Province; Gochang-gun County in Jeollabuk-do Province; Suncheon, Jeollanam-do Province; Gangwon Eco-Peace Biosphere Reserve; Imjin River in Yeoncheon-gun County, Gyeonggi-do; and Wando-gun.

Yu Ho, head of the ministry's Nature and Ecology Policy Division, said the county's designation will serve as a catalyst to systematically preserve the island ecosystem that is vulnerable to climate change and stimulate sustainable regional development."

He added, "We can expect a boost in the income of county residents and job creation through Wando-gun's higher international status and stimulation of ecotourism."