21 May 2001

Mr You Jong-Keun
Chollabuk-do (North Cholla Province)
#1, 4-ga, Chungang-dong, Wansan-gu
Chonju-si, North Cholla Province
Republic of Korea 560-761

Dear Governor

Re: Saemankeum reclamation project

The Australasian Wader Studies Group expressed its deep concern at the ongoing reclamation of the tidal flats at Saemankeum by letter of 13 February 1999. Thank you for you letter of 25 January 2000 in which you advised of the Joint Investigation Committee who would carry out an investigation to inform the government and ensure the project is carried out in environment-friendly ways.

As the project is now subject to an imminent decision, we wish to submit our further concerns about the ecological consequences of the reclamation project. The importance of the vast inter-tidal flats of the Yellow Sea is now becoming much more understood. These inter-tidal areas are host to millions of migratory shorebirds, (45% of the population in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and 10% of the world shorebird population) many of which spend the non-breeding season in Australia.

The Yellow Sea in providing staging areas where waders can rest and accumulate reserves of fat to fuel their migration is so important that at times a large percentage of the entire population of a species may be at a single place. Pressures on the Yellow Sea ecosystem has contributed to our flyway (of the three major flyways for waders in the world), being known as the 'threatened flyway'.

Threats to the Yellow Sea ecosystem are many. The presence of 10% of the world's human population in the basins that drain into the Sea is leading to significant habitat loss and degradation, serious pollution problems and unsustainable use of natural resources. The threats to the tidal flats include loss of environmental flow from rivers entering the Yellow Sea from water extraction (tidal flats now eroding rather than accreting), oil fields, aquaculture, harvesting shell fish, salt manufacture, boats moored on the flats and in particular, reclamation for industry and agriculture.

Research on the importance of Saemankeum for waders has found that it is the most important staging area for the fast-declining and vulnerable Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus, population estimated to be less than 4000. Highest counts (60) for the endangered Nordmann's Greenshanks Tringa guttifer, estimated population of 250 to 990, have been made at Saemankeum in recent years.

Protection of the Saemankeum intertidal wetlands will provide a future for the waders of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway as it will provide a clear trend away from destructive reclamation projects. This would establish the credentials of the Republic of Korea in its commitment to the conservation and wise use of wetlands under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.

The Australasian Wader Studies Group (AWSG) represents 309 members including 102 members from 27 overseas countries in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. AWSG members research and monitor wader populations. We hope that your government will protect the remaining tidal wetlands in the Republic of Korea's area of the Yellow Sea. Waders are under enormous pressure from habitat destruction in many countries and major losses of habitat cannot be sustained without major reductions in population numbers.

The protection of important individual sites is vital to maintain the Flyway, and all countries holding such sites must have an international responsibility to protect them for use by migratory waders.

Thank you for the opportunity to express our concerns.


Yours sincerely

Sandra Harding
Conservation Officer, AWSG