Environmental organisations worldwide urge South Korea to halt destruction of its most important wetland…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. 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.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. Rumour has it that the government thinks that destroying the wetlands is not a problem as creating agricultural land is just as environmentally friendly!At the South Korean embassy in London, environmental organisations BirdLife International, 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.  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. 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.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. 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 Forests.org. 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.
4th July 2014