Reply To: Major Asian wetland – in Korea – looks doomed


An ecological horror story is indeed unfolding at Saemangeum.

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.