Major Asian wetland - in Korea - looks doomed

email just received via Oriental Bird Club:

Dear All,

For all of us concerned with the future survival of some of East Asia's most wonderful shorebirds, like Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann's Greenshank and Great Knot, some (more) terrible news today, March 16.

The Supreme Court in South Korea has ruled that the Saemangeum reclamation project is not illegal per se, allowing the government here to continue building a seawall that will permanently close off 40 100 ha of tidal-flats and sea shallows from the sea. Although 2 of the 13 judges declared that the project is based on a seriously flawed EIS, that it has costs that will need to be borne by future generations, and that it should be cancelled, the Supreme Court as a body fell short of demanding the project be cancelled.

The decision for restarting or cancelling the project falls again then to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the government as a whole. The Min. of Ag. is the one responsible for claims that tidal-flat reclamation is good for birds, even while pushing reclamation AND hanging banners around wetlands nationwide warning people to avoid the dangerous wild birds that come carrying the Bird Flu. The government as a whole too has always put economic and infrastructrual development (as in building things) over wise use and conservation of natural resources. It would be remarkable if they now showed the necessary vision to state that they would indeed prefer to conserve the tidal-flats, rather than create land that might eventually be used, as has been proposed, to build the world's biggest golf-course complex.

Based on developer's claims, the 33 km long seall (itself built from quote rocks of a 100 mountains unquote) will be completed at the end of April this year, in time to choke the tidal-flats (and the several hundred thousand shorebirds they support on migration) this Spring. After that time, discussion will be held on how to use any land created.

Domestic protests have flared in recent weeks, with hunger strikes, sit-ins, and public condemnation of the project - even by one the nation's leading and most influential intellectuals. They will continue - not just for weeks, but for the years ahead.

The impacts on migratory shorebirds are also expected to be enormous and long-term - and they will be monitored. The site is famous for holding concentrations of 175+ Spoon-billed Sandpiper and 60 Nordmann's Greenshank, and even without allowing for turnover, likely holds close to 30% of the world's Great Knot.

The Australasian Wader Studies Group and Birds Korea will therefore conduct a shorebird monitoring program at the site and in adjacent areas, to gather data on shorebirds and their habitats with a rigid methodology. Approximately 12 international researchers will join domestic counters to carry out the work, starting on March 31st, and continuing on until the end of May.

We are still looking for support: be it financial, technical, or PR, for this year and for next. We need to do all that we can to use the Saemangeum reclamation to demonstrate the unacceptable costs of large-scale tidal-flat reclamation, not only here in South Korea (host of the 2008 Ramsar Convention on wise use of wetlands) but where-ever it happens, be it the vital tidal-flat systems in Bangladesh and Inner Gulf Of Thailand, or those of the Yellow Sea, or of Japan , Taiwan, and the Philippines, of Sakhalin and the Siberian coast. All such areas are vital; all have been or are still threatened, and in every case the developer has always claimed that impacts will be small, that the birds will move somewhere else, that the development will be friendly to the environment...

At the cost of one of the most important shorebird sites in Asia, we all need to have an argument to prove them wrong.

Sincerely,

Nial Moores Birds Korea

Nial Moores

Birds Korea: The national and international network dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats.

http://www.birdskorea.org http://www.birdskorea.or.kr

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An ecological horror story is indeed unfolding at Saemangeum.
[quote]
At least two bird species face extinction while other wildlife, including shellfish, fish and plants, is being harmed by the closure, one year ago, of a 33-mile seawall to drain Saemangeum Wetland in South Korea.

Algae are blooming in the dank puddles that remain and thick scum lines the estuary’s few creeks and channels. Vast stretches of shellfish beds, and thousands of plants, lie dead on the parched mud now covering most of the site.

The tidal range of the 155-square mile wetland has dropped from seven metres to just 17 centimetres and all but 30 of the 400 boats that fished estuary waters have been grounded as a result.

Yet there are no firm plans to compensate for this wildlife and economic tragedy and conservationists are appealing to the UK government to help save what remains of the site.

The Saemangeum project was hatched to create paddy fields but there is insufficient clean water for irrigation. 'Now they are talking about building a golf course, a huge casino or even a Formula 1 race track,' says the RSPB’s Sarah Dawkins, who is currently working as a volunteer to help monitor the impact on birds of the seawall.
...

'Saemangeum really was the jewel in the crown yet all around me the place is dying.'
...
A chink of light still glimmers, however, for the birds whose fate seems almost sealed. Sluice gates have been built into the Saemangeum sea-wall, which if kept open would save at least part of the wetland.

Birds Korea, a conservation group in South Korea, wants the UK government and the EU, together with governments elsewhere, to offer support to South Korean authorities in conserving and managing Saemangeum. [/quote]
[url=http://www.rspb.org.uk/news/details.asp?id=tcm:9-159428][/url]

From email I've been forwarded, from Nial Moores of Birds Korea:

http://www.restoresaemangeum.com

Takes only a minute to send a mail either to a South Korean embassy/consulate in a given nation (4 or so countries so far on the list, and we will extend the reach over the coming months) or to a Min of Env official here in Korea. From an announcement made in spring looks like we might have won the Geum Estuary battle...just need a little more pressure to make sure!

From Reuters:
[quote]A huge South Korean land reclamation project has destroyed wetlands, killed migratory birds and pushed endangered species toward extinction, a report obtained at the weekend said.
The Saemangeum land reclamation, completed in 2006 on the west coast and covering about 400 square kms (155 sq miles) -- about seven times larger than Manhattan -- has removed one of the largest feeding grounds on the Yellow Sea for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds who pass by each year, it said.
"Within Saemangeum, (we) recorded a decline of 137,000 shorebirds, and declines in 19 of the most numerous species, from 2006 to 2008," according to the study by conservation groups Birds Korea and Australasian Wader Studies Group that will be released at an international Ramsar convention on wetlands this week in South Korea.
Migratory birds traveling between Russia and Alaska in the north to New Zealand and Australia in the south congregate for often their only refueling stop at Yellow Sea tidal flats to feast on shellfish and other food.
South Korea, now one of the world's largest economies, launched its reclamation project decades ago to increase its farm land when it was trying to rise from the ashes of the 1950-1953 Korean War and now says it will use the land for factories and recreation sites.
The study indicated that the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper and the endangered Spotted Greenshank were being pushed to extinction by the loss of wetlands.
"There have been large declines and some of this is irreversible," said Nial Moores, a British-born conservationist and director of Birds Korea. "We anticipate the declines will not only continue but become more obvious in other species."
...[/quote]
South Korea land grab killing migratory birds

From Reuters:

A huge South Korean land reclamation project has destroyed wetlands, killed migratory birds and pushed endangered species toward extinction, a report obtained at the weekend said.

The Saemangeum land reclamation, completed in 2006 on the west coast and covering about 400 square kms (155 sq miles) -- about seven times larger than Manhattan -- has removed one of the largest feeding grounds on the Yellow Sea for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds who pass by each year, it said.

"Within Saemangeum, (we) recorded a decline of 137,000 shorebirds, and declines in 19 of the most numerous species, from 2006 to 2008," according to the study by conservation groups Birds Korea and Australasian Wader Studies Group that will be released at an international Ramsar convention on wetlands this week in South Korea.

Migratory birds traveling between Russia and Alaska in the north to New Zealand and Australia in the south congregate for often their only refueling stop at Yellow Sea tidal flats to feast on shellfish and other food.

South Korea, now one of the world's largest economies, launched its reclamation project decades ago to increase its farm land when it was trying to rise from the ashes of the 1950-1953 Korean War and now says it will use the land for factories and recreation sites.

The study indicated that the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper and the endangered Spotted Greenshank were being pushed to extinction by the loss of wetlands.

"There have been large declines and some of this is irreversible," said Nial Moores, a British-born conservationist and director of Birds Korea. "We anticipate the declines will not only continue but become more obvious in other species."

South Korea land grab killing migratory birds

Another Reuters story on Saemangeum includes a quote George Orwell might have been proud of, from official with 1984 style thought patterns:
[quote]"This project is not about protecting the environment. It is about economic development. And we will do that in an environmentally sound way," said Park Hyoungbae, an official with the Saemangeum development authority.[/quote]S.Korea Builds City From Sea At Wetland's Expense