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."