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South Korea urged to halt destruction of wetland

Environmental organisations worldwide urge South Korea to halt destruction of its most important wetland

Cambridge, UK, 20th August 2003 – In protests at South Korean embassies in the UK, USA, Australia, Japan and New Zealand, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Seoul, a coalition of environmental organisations has formally protested about the highly controversial project to reclaim Saemangeum [1]. Saemangeum is a vital Asian tidal wetland because of the 25,000 Korean fishermen who depend upon it for their livelihood and because of the site’s critical importance for threatened migratory bird species. [2]

Five weeks ago, a Korean court stopped the reclamation, following a case brought about by Korean environmental organisations and 3,500 local people. Studies had shown that the water in the proposed reclamation reservoirs would be of too poor quality for agricultural use. However, the South Korean Government lodged an appeal against the decision, and the case will be heard from 26 August. [3]

At the South Korean embassy in London, environmental organisations BirdLife International [4], its UK Partner, the RSPB, Friends of the Earth, Korean NGO WBKEnglish and the Oriental Bird Club handed a letter of protest to Ambassador, Lee Tae-Sik, together with a petition containing 5,200 signatures. [5] The letter urged the cancellation of the Saemangeum Reclamation Project under Korea’s obligations to conservation and sustainable management under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Ramsar Convention.

The organisations recognise that, if the project is not abandoned, by the time of proposed completion in 2006, 401 km2 of tidal flats and shallows, the whole of the most important shorebird site in the Yellow Sea, would be lost, with serious consequences for the globally threatened species dependent on the wetland. [6] Among these, a recent count found the world’s highest numbers of the Endangered Spotted Greenshank, Tringa guttifer, which numbers fewer than 1,000 individuals world-wide, large numbers of the Vulnerable Saunders’s Gull, Larus saundersi, and Baikal Teal, Anas formosa, and an estimated 10% of the global population of the Vulnerable Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Eurynorhynchus pygmeus. [7]

In addition, Saemangeum supports a significant proportion of the international population of 27 species of waterbirds, including an estimated 80,000 plus Great Knots, Calidris tenuirostris. In 1999, Ramsar asked the South Korean Government to protect the site as a Wetland of International Importance. [8]

On 20 August, Korean environmental organisations, KFEM, Green Korea United and WBKEnglish protested at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Seoul. In a country not renowned for public protests, Saemangeum has already inspired some of the nation’s largest demonstrations, including a 65-day long march by monks.

In Australia’s capital, Canberra, WWF handed over a petition and protest letters. Other organisations opposing the reclamation project include the Ramsar Secretariat, Wetlands International and Protests are also expected in the USA, New Zealand and Japan.

In their joint letter of protest, the UK-based environmental organisations argue that loss of the Saemangeum tidal flats would cause greater expense in the long-term than abandoning the project altogether, through loss of valuable fishery resources, increased pollution and damage to South Korea’s international reputation. In addition, it is very likely that in the future this globally outstanding site would generate additional wealth through its untapped tourism value.

“Destroying one of a handful of globally important sites for biodiversity conservation is both unnecessary and damaging to South Korea’s international reputation and national economy,” says BirdLife International’s Director and Chief Executive, Dr Michael Rands. “By protecting Saemangeum, South Korea could establish its position in Asia as a nation committed to the conservation of global biodiversity and environmentally sustainable development.”

NOTES FOR EDITORS Saemangeum is the world’s largest reclamation project. The first stage of the project, construction of a 33-km dyke, is 90% complete.

27 species of waterbird occur each year in concentrations recognised by the Ramsar Convention, to which the South Korean Government has been a party since 28 March 1997, as ‘internationally important’. They include six species (in bold) internationally red-listed as in danger of extinction. The 27 are: Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes, Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor, Bean Goose Anser fabalis (race middendorfi), Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons (race frontalis), Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, Baikal Teal Anas formosa, Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola, Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus (race dealbatus), Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus, Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa (race melanuroides), Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica, Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus (race variegatus), Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquatus (race orientalis), Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis, Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia, Spotted Greenshank Tringa guttifer, Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus, Grey-tailed Tattler Heterosceles brevipes, Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres, Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris, Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis, Dunlin Calidris alpina (races arcticola/sakhalina), Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus, Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus, Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris, Saunders’s Gull Larus saundersi, Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris

Judge Kang Young-ho of the Third District of Seoul Adminstrative Court heard the case against the development after South Korean President, Roh Moo-Hyun, announced that the project would have no end-use.

BirdLife International is a global alliance of conservation organisations working in more than 100 countries who, together, are the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting bird life.

Photographs of the Saemangeum wetland and the threatened species mentioned are available for press and media use upon request. Please use the appropriate credit. For further information on the Saemangeum wetland, please see:

According to the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Committee, 2001.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List criteria for species of conservation concern are: Critically Endangered (facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future), Endangered (facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future) and Vulnerable (facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term). See BirdLife International (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Editions and BirdLife.

The Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance arises from a 1971 convention, signed in Ramsar, Iran, providing the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources by national action and international co-operation. There are presently 136 Contracting Parties to the Convention, with 1288 wetland sites, totalling 108.9 million hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

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