Oriental Bird Club, August 19 2003

His Excellency Mr Lee Tae-Sik
Embassy of the Republic of Korea
60 Buckingham Gate
London SW1E 6AJ
19 August 2003


For attention: Dr Yoon Young-Kwan, Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs & Trade


Your Excellency


The estuarine system in your country known as Saemangeum is the single most imporant stop-over site for migratory shorebirds along the East Asia flyway connecting the Arctic to Australia. Your government's current 'reclamation project' at the site reveals its most unfortunate failure to recognise the international significance of the area as a biological phenomenon. I therefore request you to pass this letter to your government in order to secure the immediate cancellation of the project.

No fewer than 27 species of waterbird occur every year in the Saemangeum system in concentrations recognised by the Ramsar Convention, to which your government has been a party since 28 March 1997, as 'internationally important'. These species, some of which (in bold) are internationally red-listed as in danger of extinction, are:

Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes
Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor
Bean Goose Anser fabalis (race middendorfi)
Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons (race frontalis)
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Baikal Teal Anas formosa
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus (race dealbatus)
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa (race melanuroides)
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus (race variegatus)
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquatus (race orientalis)
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Spotted Greenshank Tringa guttifer
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus
Grey-tailed Tattler Heterosceles brevipes
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis
Dunlin Calidris alpina (races arcticola/sakhalina)
Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus
Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus
Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris
Saunders's Gull Larus saundersi
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris

The numbers in the Saemangeum system of any one of these species in the East Asian flyway qualify the site as one of international importance, and the presence of six globally threatened species on this list is of the greatest significance (hundreds of biologists are working internationally to secure the future of these species). However, in addtion to this compelling evidence, there are a further six species of bird of immense international importance which occur irregularly in the Saemangeum system. These species, all of which are internationally red-listed as in danger of extinction (I retain my use of bold for emphasis and consistency), are:

Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor
Swan Goose Anser cygnoides
White-naped Crane Grus vipio
Hooded Crane Grus monacha
Red-crowned Crane Grus japonensis
Relict Gull Larus relictus

Here, then, are 33 solid reasons to abandon the Saemangeum Reclamation Project. These lists confirm the right of people internationally to be deeply concerned and distressed at your government's intentions. Not only have there been major domestic protests against this environmentally catastrophic initiative, but BBC World has screened a documentary on the impact of the project, and the US, Australian and New Zealand media have all registered the cause as one of major international interest.

As a party to the Ramsar Convention, your government has committed itself to the 'wise use of wetlands' in its territory, which is defined as 'their sustainable utilisation for the benefit of human kind compatible with the maintenance of the natural properties of the ecosystem' (my italics). In 1999 your government actually sponsored and proposed a resolution (7.21) which urges parties 'to review and modify existing policies that adversely affect intertidal wetlands, [and] to seek to introduce measures for the long-term conservation of these areas'. Your government now needs to observe its own resolution with regard to Saemangeum, whose intertidal flats will be irreversibly affected, and in essence destroyed, by the reclamation project.

I therefore want to emphasise to you, as clearly as possible, that the preservation or loss of the Saemangeum estuarine system is not merely a domestic issue, as your government has, up to now, insisted, but is also an international one of very real dimensions. The world is watching your country now for evidence of its readiness to observe its international obligations under the Ramsar Convention. On behalf of the Oriental Bird Club, which represents the interests of birdwatchers, nature lovers, conservationists and environmentalists throughout the Orient (and in whose forthcoming Bulletin this letter will be published in full), I respectfully petition your government-in the form of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade-to accept the recent court ruling against the Saemangeum Reclamation Project, and to cancel it.


Yours sincerely

Dr N. J. Collar
Chairman, Oriental Bird Club