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Call To PM To Protest Korean Wetland Destruction


July 27, 2003 - Wellington
MEDIA RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE USE

Forest and Bird urges PM to protest Korean wetland destruction.


Forest and Bird is encouraging Prime Minister Helen Clark to express concerns to the South Korean Government about the destruction of a major South Korean wetland that is important for New Zealand conservation. Helen Clark is currently in South Korea.

A South Korean court has temporarily forced a halt to work on a major reclamation project that will destroy much of the Saemanguem wetland in South Korea. Environmentalists in South Korea had taken legal action against the government project because it would destroy an internationally important bird habitat. The wetland is an important feeding ground for New Zealand migratory birds.

"The annual flight of migratory birds from New Zealand to the Arctic and back is one of the great wonders of the world. It is amazing to think that birds so small can fly so far. Yet this annual flight is in jeopardy," said Forest and Bird's senior researcher Barry Weeber.

"The Saemanguem wetland is important for conservation in New Zealand because it is a feeding ground for migratory birds from New Zealand. Destruction of such an important feeding area would jeopardise the survival of the birds on their extremely long flight," Mr. Weeber said.

"Birds tagged at the Firth of Thames here in New Zealand have been recorded in the Saemanguem wetland, including the kuaka or bar-tailed godwit. We know this wetland is important for New Zealand's migratory birds," Mr. Weeber said.

"It's important that our Prime Minister Helen Clark stands up for New Zealand conservation while in South Korea. This is a critical time for the Saemanguem wetland," he said.

"South Korean courts have temporarily stopped work on this project because of the damage it could do. Now would be a good time for the project to be completely stopped," he said. ENDS

Briefing Paper for Rt. Hon. Helen Clark

Korean development threat to NZ conservation

Summary

A proposed development in South Korea is a threat to New Zealand conservation because it will destroy the habitat of migratory birds that rely on estuaries and coastal ecosystems in Korea and New Zealand. Your visit to South Korea provides an opportunity to make the South Korean Government aware that its proposal could harm conservation in New Zealand.

The proposal

Saemangeum is a 40,100 ha wetland comprising of tidal mudflats on the West Coast of South Korea. It is currently undergoing government-led reclamation to provide agricultural or industrial land. A 33 kilometre long sea wall has been partly constructed and it now partially encloses the rich tidal mudflats that are formed at the mouth of the Mankyong and Geum rivers.

The proposal was initiated by the military government in the 1970s but has been continued following the establishment of democracy. A government appointed expert review panel recommended abandonment of the giant engineering project in 2001.

Environmental organizations took legal action that resulted in the granting of an injunction on 15 July 2003. The injunction has temporarily halted the project. The Korean Ministry of Agriculture has announced it will appeal the injunction.

Saemangeum wetland important for conservation in New Zealand

The Saemangeum wetland is one of the most important wetlands in Asia. The wetland provides a habitat for a range of threatened bird species. It is also part of a network of wetlands that provide important habitats for New Zealand migratory birds, such as the bar tailed godwit (kuaka). The wetland contains internationally significant concentrations of kuaka. New Zealand-tagged birds are found at the wetland.

Migratory waders and New Zealand conservation

Kuaka leave Alaska in mid September each year and arrive in northern New Zealand in October. They leave New Zealand in mid march and return the Arctic to breed, flying along the East Asian coast. Kuaka spend around a month on the East Asian coast. This behaviour means that the protection of habitat in Asia is important for the survival of kuaka in New Zealand.

Most of the migrant waders reaching New Zealand's shores come from within the Arctic regions of northern Asia and North America. Their 'fly-way' follows down the coast of East Asia, crossing the oceans by Japan and into the Pacific. Some birds disperse westward onto Australian coasts through the Philippines and Indonesia; others curve east to reach New Zealand (and some of its offshore islands).

New Zealand destinations for migratory waders include northern estuaries and coasts such as Kaipara Harbour and the Firth of Thames. Miranda at the Firth of Thames is the resting place for up to 39 species of migratory birds.

The destruction or degradation of the Saemangeum wetland will impact on New Zealand by reducing the available habitat for migratory birds that rely on the wetland as a destination of feeding and resting location en-route to the Arctic.

How New Zealand can help It is important that the Korean Government is made aware of the potential impact of this proposal on New Zealand conservation. Forest and Bird would appreciate it if you could please raise this issue in meetings with the Korean President, Agriculture Minister and any other relevant members of the Korean Government.

Barry Weeber Senior Researcher Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society PO Box 631 Wellington New Zealand www.forest-bird.org.nz


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