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Impressions of South Korea

Thierry Chopin visited South Korea in April 2014

April, 2014

Welcoming message of Thierry Chopin for the opening ceremony of the Wando Seaweed Expo 2014


Why it is better to eat seaweed soup than fast food!


Thierry Chopin flew to Seoul, South Korea. He met the students of Jeong Ha Kim, of the Sungkyunkwan University, before leaving for Daejeon, where he was invited by Sung Min Boo to give a seminar at the Chungnam National University. The seminar was entitled "Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA): an aquanomic approach to farming the sea". After that, they drove to Wando (South Korea is not a very large country, especially when compared to Canada).

Wando was the location of both the 2014 Wando International Marine Algal Symposium, from April 16th to April 19th, with the theme "Seaweeds for Future Industry", and the very interesting Wando Seaweeds Expo 2014, with the theme "Discovery of the Future Life, Seaweeds", for a full month between April 11th and May 11th. Thierry Chopin was one of the keynote speakers of the conference, which was very well organized by a committee chaired by Jeong Ha Kim. The conference covered many aspects of phycology: taxonomy, genetics, evolution, ecology, physiology, seaweed and microalgal industrialization, aquaculture techniques, diseases and much more.

This conference was also highly cultural and enjoyable. The first day, there was a beautiful performance of wonderful South Korean music and dances for the audience to appreciate, and for some to discover. For the second day, Jeong Ha Kim had organized a "Seaweed Concert", only the second time music was brought into a seaweed conference. The first was in 1992 when Jean-Yves Floc'h, and the choir he was a member of, performed at the opening ceremony of the 14th International Seaweed Symposium in Brest, France, and interpreted a wonderful song to which the whole choir swayed like a wonderful underwater kelp forest. This second occasion presented a rare and special opportunity as SooJin Han, the daughter of Taejun Han, a well-respected phycologist and successful developer of seaweed cosmeceuticals, was visiting her family in South Korea. SooJin is a remarkable young violinist with already an impressive list of accomplishments. She came to Wando with her friends ChanWook Kang (cello) and JooYoun Shin (piano) to delight the audience with music of Handel, Faure, Massenet and Squire. Having the father and daughter on stage was a special moment, especially when she recalled excursions on the shores of the Isle of Man, where her father was a postdoctoral fellow with the well-known British phycologist Joanna Kain (Jones). At a time, SooJin knew quite a lot of species names, but her violin soon became her calling. After some nice conversation, Thierry Chopin also had the rare privilege of touching a 1666 Stradivarius violin… quite a special feeling for those musically inclined!

The morning after the conference, a number of attendees were able to visit some large local cultivation sites where kelps and abalone are co-cultivated. Some of the kelp biomass is used for diversified applications and some is used directly to feed abalone every 4 days. Paradoxically, South Koreans do not call that aquaculture practice IMTA, but this is really yet another variation of it. Interestingly, while this is large scale aquaculture, it does not reach the high density which can be observed in some places in China, like Sanggou Bay; this could be related to the structure of the operations, which remain family managed. South Koreans also apply the concept of Integrated Sequential BioRefinery (ISBR), in which the same species is processed in many different ways to develop a full array of diverse products, instead of the too common one species-one process-one product approach still observed in many fisheries and aquaculture.

In the afternoon, the group explored the Wando Seaweed Expo 2014 and what a surprise it was…! On several hectares along the waterfront, 5 pavilions explain what seaweeds are and what can be done with them. The opening ceremony was a spectacular show, including the band Nine Muses and a welcoming message from Thierry Chopin (see above). You can decide which one must have been the most popular! This expo averaged 23,000-25,000 visitors per day. The 5 pavilions (ecology, industry, food, culture and business) remarkably delighted people of all ages, whether they knew nothing about seaweeds or were experts, which is quite a laudable achievement. A variety of "experience" facilities (from making seaweed ice cream to extracting red, brown and green pigments) kept children interested in seaweeds with much laughter and amazed eyes. A unique floating platform, the "Seaweeds Experience Zone", recreated small scale models of the cultivation techniques for the main seaweed species farmed in South Korea and offered people the chance to touch/feel them as well.

At the end of the afternoon, the Mayor of Wando wanted to meet the group to get its impression. Mr. Jong-Sik Kim was omni-present during the week: at the opening ceremonies of the Expo and the Conference, listening to the keynote presentation of Thierry Chopin, distributing seaweed soup to visitors, with the mascots Haecho and Micho, at the cultural events and the banquet. A dream-come-true politician for any organizer of a seaweed event and an enthusiastic seaweed supporter every western phycologist can only dream of! The group told him that it was most impressed by the quality of the information and the way the Expo was able to reach a very diverse population without boring any sector of it or oversimplifying and irritating some purist scientists! A very difficult balance to find, but a very successful formula when reached through a playful approach. It is certainly a very concrete example of successfully developed edutainment. With a few more translations into English and a few adaptations to better target a western audience, this would be a wonderful touring exhibit, which could play a huge educational role. Maybe we should just say that it was a surprising wonder of Wando!

On his return to Seoul-Incheon airport, Thierry Chopin had enough time to visit Taejun Han at his spin-off company of the Regional Innovation Incubator of the Incheon National University. The tour, livened up by the very kind hospitality of Taejun, was most interesting. Taejun has developed two brands of functional cosmetics launched in 2012 and 2013, M.Rose and Fikia, which are most impressive by their design and are presently being enjoyed by Kathy Chopin!

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