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Korean oil spill threatens IBAs

…bay vital for wintering birds

South Korea's worst oil spill is threatening two Important Bird Areas (IBAs) which are crucial for large numbers of wintering and migrating birds.

Tens of thousands of volunteers and soldiers have battled for 10 days to attempt to clean up thousands tons of crude oil, some of which is now threatening to enter Cheonsu Bay, about 95 miles southwest of the capital Seoul. The bay is a vital for wintering birds and large numbers of birds also use it as a stopover site during migration. If it were to become contaminated it could lead to a wildlife catastrophe.

Oil has already coated (and been largely/partly cleaned up from) several kilometres of coast, with much of the thickest oil having been washed up on c.30 km of beaches. At sea, the broken slick now apparently extends up to c.130 km south from the spill centre, with oil washing up on beaches and tidal-flats as far south as the Geum Estuary.The Geum Estuary-Seocheon coastline alone holds many thousands of wintering birds including Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus, Shelduck Tadorna tadorna and the Vulnerable Saunders’s Gull Larus saundersi.

“Cheonsu Bay and the Geum Estuary are extremely important areas for birds wintering and migrating in the Yellow Sea. South Korea has now declared the west coast Taean region a disaster area and it is crucial that all efforts are made to help clean up the oil”, said Mike Crosby from BirdLife International.

On the Taen Peninsula waders such as Dunlin Calidris alpine are already showing signs of oil contamination and seabirds have been picked up dead from oiling.

4th July 2014