The Korean Grand Canal: To Be or Not To Be?

Birds Korea, along with many other organizations inside and outside of South Korea, believes that the proposed Korean Grand Canal project would be devastating to the biodiversity of our rivers.

Following confirmation in late February 2008 that the Grand Canal would proceed, Birds Korea wrote a formal letter of concern (March 22nd), highlighting the need to consider the project in relation to obligations held under existing laws and international conventions. We also collaborated with lead-activists at the national office of KFEM (the country’s largest environmental NGO), helping to gather international petitions and letters. Several thousand petitions and letters were mailed as a result, with the majority of these sent through the global “Ecological Internet.” We also passed on our concerns about the anticipated impacts on biodiversity to several international organizations, and letters were sent to government bodies in Korea e.g. by the Australasian Wader Studies Group (our partners in the SSMP) and by BirdLife International, the last in late May.

During the same period (and prior to it), many other organizations have of course protested the Korean Grand Canal project on economic, spiritual, and environmental grounds. These have included the Eco-Horizon Institute and the Buddhist Environmental Solidarity, who together have also produced a book published in both Korean and English opposing the first phase of the project (the Gyeongbu Canal, which as proposed would link the Han and Nakdong Rivers).

Due to these collective efforts, the Grand Canal project was rightly suspended by the national government in early June. We applaud that bold decision. The wording for this suspension, however, still leaves the strong possibility that the project might be revived. No statements indicating that the project has either been completely given up or will be independently assessed have yet been made that we know of.

The Eco-Horizon Institute (EHI) and the Buddhist Environmental Solidarity (BES) therefore proposed a joint visit to Europe in mid-July, to visit key conservation organizations and to gather information on canals in general, while raising international awareness of the Grand Canal and other domestic wetland conservation issues (including Saemangeum and conservation of Yellow Sea tidal-flats). At the invitation of these two organizations, Birds Korea’s director Nial Moores will join this small delegation, which also includes the Reverend Su Gyeong (Buddhist Priest / Permanent Representative Buddhist Environmental Solidarity), Park Jin-Sub (Vice President of EHI) and Jang Ji-Young (Researcher of EHI). The group will be assisted in Europe by volunteer translator Kim Sang-Kuk, presently based in Germany, and will also be joined by several “Birds Koreans” along the way.

The delegation will make joint PowerPoint presentations to both the Ramsar Bureau and to staff of the major international NGO partners to Ramsar, (BirdLife International, Wetlands International and as intended to WWF International and the IUCN). The presentations will also include further information contributed by the Tidal-flat Conservation Forum. The Tidal-flat Conservation Forum is, as most of our members know, an expert coalition of academics, GOs and NGOs (including Birds Korea), under the Chair of Prof. Koh Chul-Hwan.

The itinerary of the Korean NGO delegation is as follows:

  • July 21st: Depart Incheon, arrive Gland (Switzerland).

  • July 22nd: Presentation at the Ramsar Bureau in Gland, and meeting with Constanza Martinez (Senior Policy Advisor, IUCN).

  • July 23rd: Fly to the UK. Assisted by Charlie Moores (one of Birds Korea's co-founders) visit Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust London Wetland Centre.

  • July 24th: Joined by Sona Sutherland (Lead Birds Korea Translator) and environmental consultant Martin Sutherland (two UK-based Birds Koreans: see Nature Reserves in the UK). Morning: The Lodge, Headquarters of the RSPB. Meeting with Ian Barber (International Officer - Asia) and Andre Farrar (Public Relations Manager). Afternoon: Presentation and discussion with BirdLife International.

  • July 25th: Depart the UK and fly to Amsterdam. Presentation and discussion with key personnel of Wetlands International, and meeting with Jan van de Kam. Jan van de Kam is a professional wildlife photographer, Birds Korea international member, and lead author of a book on shorebirds of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, being prepared in time for the Ramsar COP.

  • July 26th-28th: Visits to wetlands and canals in the Netherlands and Germany (members of BES and EHI only)

We will post more about this strategically important visit as information is received.

Birds Korea, July 19th, 2008.


BirdLife International 28-07-2008: Korean delegation highlights proposed canal impacts

Wetlands International: Korean NGO delegation at WI highlights Grand Canal's impacts

At the RSPB headquater (The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire):

From left to right: Miss Jang Ji Young, Researcher Eco-horizon Insitute; Mr. Kim Sang Kuk, Translator and co-ordinator of Anti-Grand Canal Movement in Germany; Mr. Nial Moores, Director Birds Korea; Reverent Su Gyeong, Permanent Representative Buddhist Environmental Solidarity; Ms. Sona Sutherland, Birds Korea Lead Translator (UK) and Mr. Martin Sutherland, environmental consultant and Birds Korea member.

Discussing Important Bird Areas in South Korea. At least 11 are threatened by the Grand Canal project. From left to right: Mr. Ian Barber, RSPB's International Officer - Asia; Mr. Nial Moores, Director Birds Korea; Mr Park Jin-Sub, Vice President Eco-Horizon Insitute.

Looking at BirdLife's book on Asia's Important Bird Areas
From left to right: Mr. Nial Moores, Director Birds Korea; Mr Park Jin-Sub, Vice President Eco-Horizon Insitute, Ms. Sona Sutherland, Birds Korea Lead Translator (UK).

At the BirdLife International headquater (Girton, Cambridge):

From left to right: Mr. Nial Moores, Director Birds Korea; Mr. Richard Grimmet, BirdLife's Global Conservation Manager; Dr. Mike Rands, BirdLife's Chief Executive; Reverent Su-Gyeong, Buddhist Environmental Leader; Dr. Mike Crosby, BirdLife Asia Division; Mr. Park Jin-Sub, Vice President Eco-Horizon Insitute.

Presentation on the impacts of the proposed Korean Grand Canal to BirdLife staff.

From left to right: Mr. Nial Moores, Director Birds Korea; Mr. Richard Grimmet, BirdLife's Global Conservation Manager; Dr. Mike Crosby, BirdLife Asia Division.

Reverent Su-Gyeong presents a gift to Dr. Mike Rands.