His Excellency Mr Lee Tae-Sik
Embassy of the Republic of Korea
60 Buckingham Gate
London SW1E 6AJ
13th August 2003
SAEMANGEUM RECLAMATION PROJECT
I understand that an appeal is shortly to be heard regarding the continuation of the Saemangeum Reclamation Project, and I would like to express concern about the damage that this project could cause to the environment and biodiversity of the Yellow Sea.
The conservation and sustainable use of natural coastal resources has become a major issue under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, to both of which Korea is a party. Strong efforts to maintain the ecological and economic functions of coastal wetlands including tidal flats are underway in many regions of the world, including Asia.
BirdLife International is a global network of more than 100 organisations committed to the conservation of birds and habitats, and through this, sustainability in the use of natural resources. The global BirdLife Partnership aims to safeguard those sites which are of crucial importance for birds and biodiversity on an international scale.
The Saemangeum tidal flats (comprising both the Mankyeung and Tongjin estuaries) are one of the most important stop-over sites in East Asia for shorebirds and other waterbirds on their migration from their breeding grounds in North-East Asia. Research indicates that the coastal wetlands around the Yellow Sea are vitally important feeding areas for these migrant birds, and that the Saemangeum tidal flats are probably the single most important site in the entire region. If large areas of the tidal flats around the Yellow Sea are reclaimed, such as those at Saemangeum, there is a real danger that the global populations of many species of waterbirds will be severely reduced.
Some 30 species of waterbird occur at Saemangeum in concentrations recognised by the Ramsar Convention as "internationally important". Many of these species are of global conservation concern, and several are listed as globally threatened in the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001). Some of the highest recent counts (anywhere in the world) of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus and Spotted Greenshank Tringa guttifer were made at Saemangeum, and other globally threatened species which occur there in internationally important concentrations include Saunders's Gull Larus saundersi, Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor and Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes. The site is also particularly notable for supporting a high proportion of the total global populations of several other shorebirds, including Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris.
I understand that the Saemangeum area also supports economically important fish stocks and that local communities use it for fisheries, salt production and seaweed production. Indeed, 25,000 Korean fishermen depend on Saemangeum for their livlihoods. Although much money has already been spent on the project, the loss of the Saemangeum tidal flats to reclamation would cause much greater expense in the long term through loss of 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 will generate additional wealth through its amenity value. For example, in North America (Canada, the United States and Mexico) bird watching has become a major industry which generates US$25 billion per year and employs over 60,000 people, according to a front-page report in the New York Times (4/2/2001). The article noted that birdwatching is a non-consumptive use of renewable resources that depends upon the protection of wildlands and wilderness habitat, and thrives and grows on the protection of biodiversity. There has been a rapid growth in public interest in birds and other wildlife in many Asian countries, including in Korea, and birdwatching and similar activities could soon develop into a major leisure industry in the region.
As I am sure that you are aware, the issue has already attracted one of the largest-scale protest campaigns seen in South Korea to date, as well as great international public and media attention. A documentary on the implications of the Saemangeum Reclamation Project was recently shown worldwide on BBC World, and the International Herald Tribune newspaper and Australian and New Zealand media have also given the issue great prominence.
We would respectfully like to ask that the government of Korea will take firm action in cancelling the Saemangeum Reclamation Project, recognising its obligations under both the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. By taking this action, Korea would win respect worldwide by taking the lead in the protection of the globally important coastal wetlands around the Yellow Sea. We will follow with interest all efforts being made by your government to conserve the area.
Dr Michael Rands
Director and Chief Executive