Saemangeum destruction given go-ahead

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World News archive. | Bird News archive for Asia |  Saemangeum destruction given go-ahead

Future looks bleak for shorebird stronghold


The long-running saga over the Saemangeum reclamation project in South Korea now appears to be reaching a conclusion. In a move that has dismayed conservation groups, the Korean Supreme Court has ruled that reclamation project is not illegal per se, allowing the government to continue building the seawall that will permanently close off 40,000 hectares of bird-rich tidal flats and shallows from the sea.

Although two of the thirteen judges declared that the project is based on a seriously flawed Environmental Impact Survey, and that it has costs that will need to be borne by future generations, the Supreme Court as a body fell short of demanding the project be cancelled.

The decision for restarting or cancelling the project now falls once again then to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the government as a whole. Based on developer's claims, the 33 km long seawall 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, discussions 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 – including one of the nation's leading and most influential intellectuals.

"The finalisation of the Saemangeum project will cause a major loss of feeding habitat for the waterbirds which migrate through East Asia, including several globally threatened species, making the protection of the remaining inter-tidal wetlands around the Yellow and China Seas an even higher conservation priority." —Mike Crosby, Research & Data Manager of BirdLife’s Asia Division

The impacts on migratory shorebirds are expected to be enormous and long term. The site is famous for holding concentrations of globally threatened species such as Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus and Spotted Greenshank Tringa guttifer. It also is thought to hold up to 30% of the world's Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris.

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

Massive blow for conservation and wildlife

Massive blow for conservation and wildlife

In a massive blow for conservation and wildlife, the Seoul High Court has decided that the South Korean Government can resume the Saemangeum wetland reclamation, which according to the Korean media is "designed to transform large tidal flats off the country’s southwestern coast into farmlands and a freshwater reservoir". (

The 40,000ha Saemangeum project on South Korea's west coast has generated enormous controversy as the area is one of the most important wetland sites for migrating waterbirds in Asia, with around 400,000 waterbirds annually passing through the wetlands or using them as a staging area.

The wetlands also support the highest fish diversity in Korea, and are a vitally important spawning ground. The livelihoods of 25,000 Korean fishermen depend on them.

"The Saemangeum project will have one of the biggest environmental impacts of any construction project in Asia over the coming decade." Richard Grimmett, BirdLife Asia

Richard Grimmett, Head of BirdLife International's Asia Division said: "The Saemangeum project will have one of the biggest environmental impacts of any construction project in Asia over the coming decade. It will mean the loss of tidal mudflats and a feeding area for vast numbers of shorebirds on their East Asia-Australasian migration, and will impact fisheries and livelihoods in the Yellow Sea."

The project to reclaim Saemangeum for rice growing began in 1991. It met with local and international opposition that resulted in a one-year suspension in 2001, before again being suspended in 2003. However by that time around 90% of the sea wall had already been completed. The Korean Government's own expert panel advised that the reclaimed land would be of too poor quality for agricultural use. Historical precedents reinforced their doubts - the Shihwa reclamation, completed in 1994, cannot be used for agriculture because of water pollution.

South Korea is a signatory to the Ramsar Covention on Wetlands and the Convention on Biological Diversity and has been chosen as the next venue of the Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention in 2008. Ramsar's mission statement reads: "The Convention's mission is the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world."

Ironically by the time the conference takes place, the Korean Government may have overseen the destruction of one of the world's great wetlands. Hope still remains however, as campaigners are seeking an injunction to bar the resumption of work and bring the case to the Supreme Court.
Threatened bird species include the Spotted Greenshank Tringa guttifer (above left)
Click here to find out more information about this species

Help save Saemangeum

Help save Saemangeum

The Saemangeum mudflat is located between the Mankyung and Donggin Rivers. The flowing water of the rivers provides rich nutrition and food to many kinds of sea-life where 1 square meter of mudflat can house thousands of marine creatures. More than 50% of waterfowl and snipe visit the Saemangeum mud flats every spring and autumn for feeding and nesting. As mentioned above, this mudflat is also the feeding grounds for seasonal birds hatching in Siberia and staying in Australia during the winter. The Saemangeum Project would destroy bird's migratory feeding and resting habitat, and destroy this unique environment created by the mudflat..

In May 1999, the 7th Ramsar Convention was held in Costa Rica. International NGOs criticised the Korean government for its lack of a strong environmental policy and how the Saemangeum Project damaged the ecology of the coastal wetlands. Therefore, the Ramsar Convention Committee and NGOs urged the Korean government to protect the environment, stating that "the declaration for preservation of wetlands and its developmental protection," against the economic development plan for this area.
to find out more about this campaign click here

Related reading..... Greenshanks

Related reading..... Greenshanks

Now sadly out of print 'Greenshanks' is one of the many superb titles in our Poyser range

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World News archive. | Bird News archive for Asia |  Saemangeum destruction given go-ahead

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