Garlic bulbs drying in the evening sun at “Mudfish Road” in Seogwipo. Jeju Island, South Korea. © Matt Lemon Photography. All Rights Reserved.
When I returned home from from a long walk after visiting 약천사 [Yakcheonsa], or Yakcheon Temple, on Buddha’s Birthday, I searched for the name of the road where I had taken this photo. It turned out to be 이어도로 [Ieodoro], and since I knew that 도로 [doro] meant road, I continued my search to find out what 이어 [Ieo] might mean. Naver’s dictionary told me it meant “mudfish” [泥魚], which seemed to make perfect sense, considering the road’s close proximity to the East China Sea. Snakehead and weatherfish, also called weather loach, both types of local mudfish, are consumed as food and kept in aquariums as pets, and in some regions, snakehead is consumed as traditional medicine for wound healing and reducing post-operative pain. Yet, just as I thought that “Mudfish Road” was such a quaint name to give to a street, I discovered that it wasn’t the road’s name after all, since it isn’t Ieo-doro but Ieodo-ro, as in Ieodo Road, with 도 [do] meaning island or islet, and the suffix -로 [-ro] being sufficient to indicate a road.
The Ieo Islet in question, internationally known as Socotra Rock or, in Chinese, Suyan Rock, is “a permanently submerged rock, its highest point at low tide being 4.6 m (15 feet) below sea level. It is situated in the northwest of the East China Sea and just at the southern end of the Yellow Sea. … Its nearest neighbor is the South Korean island of Marado, just south of Jejudo or Jeju Island, 80.45 nautical miles (nmi) to its northeast. The nearest [Chinese] territory is Haijiao Island, 133.3 nmi to its southwest, and Sheshan Dao, one of [China’s] ‘straight baseline claim’ points, is 155 nmi away to the west.”1
Source: 국립해양조사원 Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Agency (KHOA) URL
“In 1951, a joint team of the Republic of Korea Navy and the Korea Mountain Climbing Association reached the rock and lowered a bronze marker bearing the legend ‘Ieodo, Territory of the Republic of Korea’ onto its surface. In the following years, South Korea officially defined the country’s territorial waters as including Socotra Rock. However, this was not recognized by China or other neighboring countries. In 1970 South Korea’s Underwater Resource Development Law was enacted, defining Socotra Rock to lie within the country’s mining field. This move was not recognized by China. In 1987, a warning beacon was placed on the rock by South Korea. From 1995 to 2001, South Korea built the leodo Ocean Research Station on Socotra Rock despite Chinese objections. Several overflights of the island have since been made by Chinese surveillance aircraft. According to the UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea], a submerged reef cannot be claimed as territory by any country. However, China and South Korea claim it as part of their respective EEZs. Although China and South Korea have shown some evidence for their respective claims, no clear link has been demonstrated, and no written records available.”2
According to Korean sources, the Doosan Encyclopedia and the Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology, both Parangdo and Ieodo are names for the mythical islet, which the residents of Jeju Island believed housed the spirits of fishermen who perished at sea. The Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Agency lists further legends, citing a book by Jeju local 김은희 Eunhee Kim, titled “이어도를 찾아서 (In Search of Ieodo)”. The South Korean government is said to have asserted a direct link between the legend(s) and the rock, claiming that the traditional saying that “One who sees Parangdo would never return” refers to the danger facing sailors when high waves allow the rock to break the surface. Sure enough, Socotra Rock’s Korean name was officially designated as ‘Ieodo’ on January 26, 2001, by the Korea Institute of Geology.
Click here to see a photo of the leodo Ocean Research Station installed on the submerged rock, which includes a helipad to allow it to be serviced as well as lower decks for equipment and work space. Although the station has residential facilities that can comfortably accommodate 8 people for up to 15 days, the station is typically uninhabited and operated remotely.3 If you are interested to dig deeper into this issue, the sources listed in the footnotes might be a good start, and a quick internet search yields a fair number of news articles about the dispute.
More harvest photos on Matt Lemon Photography
1 Fox, Senan. China, South Korea, and the Socotra Rock Dispute: A Submerged Rock and Its Destabilizing Potential. Springer, 2018.
2 Guo, Rongxing. Territorial disputes and resource management: a global handbook. Nova Publishers, 2006.
3 Shim, Jae-Seol, In-Sik Chun, and In-Ki Min. “Construction of Ieodo Ocean Research Station and its operation.” The Fourteenth International Offshore and Polar Engineering Conference. International Society of Offshore and Polar Engineers, 2004.