August 18, 2003

The Honorable Sung-Joo Han
Embassy of Korea in the USA
2450 Massachusetts Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008


Dear Ambassador Sung-Joo Han,


Friends of the Earth-US, in solidarity with our partners in South Korea, is writing to call for your leadership in stopping the Saemangeum reclamation project. The reclamation projects' aim, to enclose 40,100ha of tidal flats and shallows behind a 33-km long sea wall, will have massive environmental impacts on water quality, fisheries and migratory bird populations; and as such should not go forward.

At present, the Saemangeum estuary system, composed of two free-flowing rivers, extensive salt-marshes, some of the world's widest tidal-flats, and extensive brackish water shallows, supports the economic livelihoods of up to 25,000 local people according to our partners in South Korea. The Saemangeum area contains some of the most economically and ecologically valuable marine species that are drawn to the flats and shallows in the area. Although available data is scarce, the Saemangeum estuary system is critical to regional inshore and offshore fisheries throughout the whole Yellow Sea, and southward into the East China Sea. In addition to the massive environmental significance of the area, the loss of this habitat would cause massive economic hardship to the local population that relies on the Saemangeum for daily subsistence.

The natural productivity of the Saemangeum area means that the existing estuary system also forms a critical feeding area annually for an estimated 300,000 or 400,000 shorebirds that migrate along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (a route that stretches from breeding grounds in Alaska and Siberia in the north to South-east Asia and Australasia in the South). This makes the Saemangeum system, the most important known site for shorebirds in the whole Yellow Sea, and one of the most vital sites in all of East Asia. According to present data, at least 19 species of shorebird and another eight species of water birds are supported by the system, including the highest recent counts globally of the Spotted Greenshank and Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Of unique importance to Americans is the fact that at least two species found in internationally important concentrations in the Saemangeum estuarine system actually nest in Alaska. The loss of the Saemangeum wetland will cause significant declines in these species populations. The reclamation is therefore clearly an issue of great concern to the United States.

All remaining internationally important coastal wetlands have great value for the future conservation of shared, migratory water bird species and for regional fisheries. South Korea, as a signatory to the Ramsar Convention and the Convention of Biological Diversity, needs to fulfil its clear international obligations to conserve the populations of these migratory species and the wetlands that they depend upon.

We therefore urge the government of South Korea to heed domestic protests and expert opinion, to respond to international obligations, and to cancel the reclamation of the Saemangeum system.



Jon Sohn
International Policy Analyst
Friends of the Earth