Kang-Hyun Joo PhD
Chief Director of Korea National Maritime Museum

The Republic of Korea has hosted two Specialised Expos, officially known as International Recognised Exhibitions. These Expos have the power not only to create a strong impetus for local development, but also for bringing global attention to specific issues facing the world. Above all, these events enormously enhanced Korean appreciation of Expos as they showcased their capacity to open up the host city to the world and to take a leading view of global issues. Most notably with Expo 2012 Yeosu, the organisation of such an event changed perceptions and is considered as the foundation for organising bigger international events.

The first Specialised Expo was held in Daejeon City, the transportation hub of the central region of the Republic of Korea. The Expo took place over 83 days, between 7 August and 7 November 1993, and was the first Expo of its kind to be held in a developing country. It was organised under the theme “The Challenge of a New Road of Development”, with its subtheme being “Traditional and Modern Science and Technology for the Developing World”. The Expo was essentially focused on reflecting on past as well as future development. The site has been preserved and is still used as an arena for science and technology education. Through this Expo, Daejeon established itself as a scientific city. Nowadays, leading science and technology complexes are located in Daejeon, and many citizens enjoy visiting the Expo complex.

"Expo 2012 was hosted with the aim of getting people to recognise the importance of the oceans"

The second Specialised Expo was hosted in Yeosu, a port city in the southwest of the Republic of Korea, between 12 May and 12 August 2012. Some 8.2 million people visited Expo 2012 Yeosu, which gathered 105 countries from every corner of the world. Around 100,000 volunteers contributed to making the Expo a success.

The theme of Expo 2012 Yeosu was “The Living Ocean and Coast.” The Expo was hosted with the aim of getting people to recognise the importance of the oceans and how they are becoming sick due to global warming and pollution, and to share the future of the oceans with people from around the world.

Expo 2012 was held with the idea of a road map for a maritime powerhouse organised by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries. The Climate Environment Pavilion, the Oceanic Civilization Pavilion, the Maritime Industrial Technology Pavilion, the Shipping and Port Pavilion, the International Pavilion, the Korean Pavilion, and the Corporate Pavilion were set up at the Expo, and cutting-edge exhibition techniques and contents were exhibited. The Expo led to the global adoption of the “Yeosu Declaration”, and led to the establishment of the Expo 2012 Yeosu Foundation, resulting in the continuing legacy of the Expo. During the preparation phase, infrastructure such as roads and bridges were developed and expanded, and a high-speed train line was built, connecting the capital city of Seoul with the entrance of the Expo. The Expo site continues to be a tourist attraction thanks to convenient transportation and traffic links.

Expo 2012 Yeosu was a Specialised Expo, lasting three months and in which participating countries customised pavilions provided by the Organiser. As the Republic of Korea has experienced rapid economic development, social development has also changed rapidly. However, the country has not yet hosted an Expo that matches its economic development capabilities. This is why the Republic of Korea is considering bidding for a World Expo that serves the goals of international society and is in line with the country’s rapid economic development.

The Ocean at the heart of the Expo

The second part of the theme of Expo 2012 was “Diversity of Resources and Sustainable Activities”, which defines the guiding principle that should inform all future actions regarding our oceans. Only with sustainable use, in other words finding the balance between production and consumption, while preserving diversity of resources, species and culture, can the ocean and coasts continue to live.

Theme background

The Expo theme helped to improve humankind’s knowledge and advancement of technology concerning the ocean and coast and identify ways to resolve challenges facing the ocean. Since the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea went into effect in 1993, the ocean has emerged as an important element in resolving various problems faced by humankind, including those related to resources, food, space and the environment. However, industrial activities have damaged the marine ecosystem and subsequently reduced fish stock. As a result, the ocean faces a severe crisis. A damaged marine ecosystem, global warming and natural disasters are not limited to a certain country or region, but are issues with global implications. Thus Expo 2012 Yeosu, themed “The Living Ocean and Coast,” paved the way for reaffirming global efforts to resolve such issues.

The Expo theme was divided into three sub-themes: Coastal Development and Preservation, New Resource Technology, and Creative Maritime Activities. These subthemes were further developed into six thematic groups - Climate & Environment, Marine Life, Marine Industry & Technology, Marine City & Marine Civilization, and Marine Arts - each of which was demonstrated in the respective subtheme pavilions.

Coastal Development and Preservation

This subtheme aimed to inspire a new level of cooperation in the international community so as to combat climate change and create a paradigm where development and preservation find a better balance. The last few decades have witnessed severe environmental degradation caused by reckless use and excessive development of natural resource by humankind. Our economies and societies had to break away from their current fossil fuel-based economies to minimise the damages to both people and the environment. Individuals, business, countries and the global community have to realise that marine resources were limited and should not be subject to careless use. They are the fundamentals for the sound development of our future society, and people and ecosystems have to be considered on the same level.

New Resources Technology

This subtheme illustrated the progress and future prospect of marine technology, a new growth driver for the advancement of humankind. Countries were competing to become more competitive in marine-related industries and to develop technologies to address issues related to resources and the changing environment. The appropriate use of resources is only possible if based on advanced marine science and technology. Fostering marine industries can create added value and generate new jobs to transform sluggish industries into a more low cost, high efficiency structure.

Creative Maritime Activities

This subtheme intended to demonstrate the relationship between oceans and humankind through culture and art, and to promote the new ideals of the seatizen and seavilization. An energetic mix of play and experiment (edutainment) would trigger the imagination and curiosity of attendees toward an unknown world, inspiring young boys and girls around the world to learn to love and appreciate the oceans. A wide collection of marine-related culture and arts, including poetry, novels, films, operas, musicals, plays and music were thus exhibited at Expo 2012 Yeosu.

The vision and strategy of Expo 2012

Anticipated results

Expo 2012 Yeosu provided an opportunity to enhance the international community’s perception of the function and value of the ocean and coast, to share knowledge on the proper use of the ocean and coast and to recognise the need for cooperation in the marine sector. It also served as a venue to learn about the achievements of and future models for the marine sector and to offer a valuable chance to promote state-of-the-art marine science and technology and marine industries.

The Expo was an opportunity for the international community to clearly understand the role of the ocean and coast as well as the challenge facing humanity caused by the reckless development of the ocean and coast. Participants were able to benchmark as well as promote successful development cases where development and preservation were well balanced.

The Expo was a chance to induce and urge cooperation and joint efforts from the international community. In particular, the Yeosu Project offered a golden opportunity for resolving imminent ocean-related problems facing developing countries.

"For visitors, the sophisticated technologies offered a unique opportunity to experience the future"

Participants in Expo 2012 were able to experience, share and co-develop cutting-edge marine science and technology for the future. Developing countries had the opportunity to acquire these technologies, thus significantly contributing to the mutual development of the marine industry. For participants, the Expo could be used as a testbed to gauge the feasibility of their marine science, technology and products. For visitors, the sophisticated technologies offered a unique opportunity to experience the future.

Furthermore, Expo 2012 presented a role model for transforming the declining port of Yeosu and its neighbouring area into a new space for living.

Expo Vision

The vision of Expo 2012 was based on three assumptions:

1. The rise in sea levels, the loss of biodiversity, acidification and pollution are only a few dangers threatening our seas and coasts. Restoring sustainable life to our marine environment is the responsibility of the entire global community.

2. The sea is our green engine for future growth. Its abundant resources and potential provide us with important research into bio- and nano-technology.

3. The sea offers a new frontier for global cooperation in order co-realise harmonious coexistence with the marine environment.

Expo Goals

People, oceans and coast in harmony
A touch of entertainment added to the valuable lessons about the oceans helped visitors better understand the seas and the importance of sustainable management of our waters. A new post­industrial model citizen, the Seatizen, would act as the bridge between the seas and humankind.

Unforgettable experience
An inspiring and memorable experience was promised through unique exhibitions and stories and eye-catching attractions. Anyone and everyone could visit Expo 2012 Yeosu and share in this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

A taste of the future
Advanced IT and marine technologies came together to create multidimensional exhibitions, offering the experience of future marine technologies, virtual reality and the oceans of the past. Developing countries had the chance to experience and share advanced eco-friendly marine technology, as well as being able to co-appreciate tomorrow’s vision of the marine industry and science.

International cooperation
Promoting a new level of international cooperation and peaceful use of the seas, the Yeosu Declaration proposed a post-Kyoto vision, and the Yeosu Project (see below) helped strengthen developing countries’ capacities in dealing with the marine-related challenges.

Post-Expo uses
A thorough plan laid out the post-Expo utilisation of the Expo facilities and on-going revitalization of Yeosu. Marine research facilities and organisations continued to be welcomed into Yeosu so as to maintain it as an eco-friendly city of marine science and industry beyond the Expo.

Expo Strategy

Green Expo
In the spirit of the theme of Expo 2012 Yeosu, all preparations and events left a limited carbon footprint, and the Energy Park became a test-bed for renewable energy. The entire Expo site was constructed with environmentally-friendly methods and recycled materials to produce the least amount of waste possible.

Ubiquitous Expo
The construction and operation of the Expo facilities and exhibitions was based on the Republic of Korea’s cutting-edge information technology. Visitors had the chance to indulge in novel experiences, involving virtual and augmented reality. The Expo Digital Gallery, among others, became representative of the ubiquitous Expo.

Design Expo
Every facility of Expo 2012 was based on the most inspirational and contemporary designs. Major facilities, including the Korean Pavilion and the Thematic Pavilion, were based on the winning designs of an international competition hosted for this very purpose. Prominent art directors were invited to supervise the various cultural and arts events and advise on the creation of world-class exhibitions.

Cultural Expo
Cultural events were major attractions at Expo 2012. A flavour of culture and art were found in official events, exhibition contents and seminars. Symbolic cultural products were designed to promote the Expo, and world famous cultural and arts performances were an integral part of Yeosu’s regional promotion.

The legacy of Expo 2012 Yeosu

Through Expo 2012 Yeosu, the Republic of Korea laid the foundation for the development of the country’s southwestern coastal cities. The mega-scale infrastructure that the Government boldly invested in, including the high speed railway, may have been impossible without the Expo. Through the convenient high-speed train link, Yeosu is visited by many tourists, which contributes to the local economy. The former site of the Expo today includes a fine art gallery and performance hall, and it is used as a conference hall where a number of different gatherings take place.

The Korean Meteorological Administration, in charge of the Republic of Korea’s climate policy, is gaining attention by building a Global Environment Pavilion on the Expo site. The purpose of Expo 2012 was the living seas, a concept that includes the marine climate environment and the impact of global warming. The Pavilion’s construction on the former Expo site can thus be seen as another achievement of the Expo.

The value and legacy of the Expo is passed down through the Expo Foundation and the Yeosu Declaration, which was agreed upon at the end of Expo 2012. The latter offers a range of support mechanism for the promotion of maritime fisheries in developing countries, through the Yeosu Project.

The Yeosu Project

The Yeosu Project represented the first case of an international cooperation project being implemented in the framework of an Expo. It sought to bridge the divide between the developed and the developing world, and to build capacity for meeting the challenges of climate change and its impact on the marine environment.

Being designed as a pilot exercise for promoting international cooperation, the Yeosu Project aimed to expand its scope with the participation of a business circle as well as international organisations. Assistance for study and research on marine environmental changes, participation in international programmes for research, and collaboration for the development of technology and policy for green growth were a few of the areas incorporated into the Yeosu Project. The programme also invited and educated trainees from developing countries, provided technical assistance for each country to solve its current ocean-related challenges and conducted joint projects on regional seas.

"The Yeosu Project aimed at enhancing public awareness of the challenges of environmental changes"

Expo 2012 Yeosu sought to make its contribution to the cause of the environment, particularly in the marine area. In this exercise, the understanding and support of international community was important for the cause of the Yeosu Declaration and the Yeosu Project which, in a nutshell, aimed at enhancing public awareness of the challenges of environmental changes, and presenting ideas and technology for meeting the challenges. Last but not least, the reaffirmation of international cooperation was essential in dealing with the overall task through concrete and concerted action.

Overview of the Yeosu Project

The Yeosu Project was an international cooperation programme designed to strengthen capabilities of developing countries in order to meet the challenges related to the ocean and the environment.

It was developed as the practical element that translated the spirit of the Yeosu Declaration and the theme of Expo 2012 Yeosu into action. The Yeosu Project became an important legacy of Expo 2012 Yeosu by helping developing countries create forward-looking and environment-friendly methods to preserve and make judicious use of marine resources.

Types of support

The Yeosu Project offered support to developing countries in the form of education and training programs, research & development, and the dispatch of experts. Policymakers and researchers from developing nations were invited to the Republic of Korea to gain knowledge from the country’s experience and technology. Support was also provided for the training of professionals seeking solutions to ocean-related issues in developing nations, and for the development of research curriculums in partnership with Korean research institutes and marine research centres.

The education and training programs and research & development projects focused on three issues:

  • Preserving the marine ecological system, reducing pollutants contaminating oceans, and realising advance marine technology;
  • Advancing the developing world in environmentally respectful marine resource development, especially in the areas of commercialisation and utilisation of marine organisms, and in the exploration of ocean mineral resource;
  • Cultivating the marine industry, including projects related to environmentally-friendly fishing technologies, restoration of fish species, cutting-edge fish farming techniques, port logistics technologies and marine equipment.


With a population of just 200,000, Yeosu is a small city. However, with the opening of the Expo Station as the terminus of the high-speed line from Seoul, the city has become popular, and the Expo site is today loved by citizens and by visiting tourists. The aquarium, built for the Expo, is particularly popular, as well as other spaces in the former Expo site that are now used as galleries.

The Expo legacy is not without its problems. The organising committee of Expo 2012 was supposed to pay for the land of the Expo venue through consultation with the Government. However, the sale of land was not conducted as well as it should have been, and public sentiment is for the Government to solve the problem by taking on the burden, as has happened with other large event legacies.

"More than seven years have passed, but Expo 2012 is alive with possibilities"

A government agency is currently working on establishing a climate exhibition centre on the former Expo 2012 site, as part of a national response to the global issue of climate change. The Establishment of the Climate Center can become part of the achievement of the ‘living seas’, reflecting the theme of Expo 2012. Although more than seven years have passed since the Expo, it still has a part to play and is alive with possibilities.

Expo 2012 made Koreans pay more attention to Expos and feel more passionate about hosting these events. Busan, the largest marine city in the Republic of Korea, is considering bidding for a World Expo. Such a decision can probably be attributed to the result of Expo 2012.


Kang-Hyun Joo Ph.D. (Cette adresse e-mail est protégée contre les robots spammeurs. Vous devez activer le JavaScript pour la visualiser.) is Chief Director of Korea National Maritime Museum


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