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South Korea Wetland Disgrace

South Korea pushes ahead with the destruction of its most important wetland…

Despite prolonged national and international protests, South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun has announced the continuation of the highly-controversial project to reclaim the internationally-important Saemangeum wetland for industrial development. Saemangeum is one of Asia`s most important tidal wetland sites and the most vital to the Korean peninsula because of its critical importance for migrating threatened species.Work was halted in 2000 on what is the largest reclamation project in the world, following warnings over resulting water pollution and damage to fisheries, construction of a 33-km dyke, already 00%-complete, recommenced in 2001. By the time of proposed completion late 2004 or in 2005, 401 km2 of tidal flat and shallows, the whole of the most important shorebird site in the Yellow Sea, will be lost, with very serious consequences for eight globally threatened species dependent on the wetland.Among these, a recent count found the world`s highest numbers of the Endangered Spotted Greenshank, Tringa guttifer, which numbers fewer than 1,000 globally, large numbers of the Vulnerable Saunders`s Gull, Larus saundersi, and the Baikal Teal, Anas Formosa, and an estimated 10% of the global population of the Vulnerable Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Eurynorhynchus pygmeus. In addition, Saemankeum supports a significant proportion of the regional population of 30 species of waterbirds, including more than an estimated 80,000 Great Knots, Calidris tenuirostris. In 1999, Ramsar even asked the South Korean Government to protect the site as a Wetland of International Importance, but this was not done. Tidal mudflats in Korea, particularly Saemangeum, are vital for the survival, not only of migratory birds in eastern Asia, but also for the marine ecosystem of the Yellow Sea, says Simba Chan, International Co-ordinator of Important Bird Areas in Asia at BirdLife International, and an expert on the region`s bird conservation. Tidal wetlands are the ecosystem facing the highest immediate threat in eastern Asia, and it is very difficult to restore them once they are destroyed.The South Korean Government argues that it is too late to stop the project, that local people want the wetland to be developed as an industrial zone and that planned artificial lakes and undeveloped water reserves will maintain bird populations. However, BirdLife International completely refutes these assertions. The ecological value of Saemangeum is as a wide tidal flat comprising two free-flowing estuaries that supports an important percentage of migrating shorebirds. Artificial lakes are a completely different habitat, and threatened species such as the Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Spotted Greenshank cannot thrive in such a different environment, comments Chan. Also, it is certainly not too late to abandon a 60%-completed project, and many, many Koreans, as well as all local environmental organisations are against the reclamation.Last year, BirdLife International`s Director and Chief Executive, Michael Rands, wrote to the South Korean government and the then-president, asking them to cancel the Saemangeum Reclamation Project, recognising their obligations to conservation and sustainable management under both the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Ramsar Convention, and is now calling on President Roh to do likewise. BirdLife International argues that the loss of the Saemankeum tidal flats to reclamation would cause much greater expense in the long term than abandoning the project, through the loss of valuable fishery resources, increased pollution and damage to South Korea`s international image. 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 Rands. By protecting Saemangeum, South Korea could establish its place in Asia as a nation committed to the conservation of global biodiversity and environmentally sustainable development BirdLife International`s call to prevent the destruction of Saemangeum coincides with a documentary on the wetland shown on the Earth Report slot on BBC World every day for a week from July 7th. TVE, the programme-makers, have an excellent page on Saemangeum and the programme on their website. The URL for this is: http://www.tve.org/news/doc.cfm?aid=1190

For further information, please contact Gareth Gardiner?Jones at BirdLife International in Cambridge, UK: tel. +44 (0)1223 279903; gareth.gardiner@birdlife.org.uk or

Charlie Moores of WBK email: wbkenglish@aol.com and see: http://www.wbkenglish.com and look at the Korean conservationists reaction - this site is in English.

4th July 2014