Phil Battley. Open Letter to NZ Govt. July 18 2003

Dr Phil Battley
Postdoctoral Fellow, Shorebird demographics and movements
533a Ruahine Street
Palmerston North
New Zealand


18 July 2003


To whom it may concern

Each year over 140,000 shorebirds migrate from New Zealand to the Arctic, most using the coasts of the Yellow Sea. In South Korea, the most important sites for shorebirds (Mangyeung and the Dongjin Estuaries) are being reclaimed as part of the Seamangeum reclamation project. This project will convert 40 100 ha of tidal flat into farmland, industrial land and lakes. The sites hold up to 500 000 migratory birds through the year, with peak daily counts of 150 000 birds. They are two of the most important habitats used by birds migrating along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. About 30 bird species use the areas in internationally important numbers, including eight globally endangered bird species. Two of these (Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Spotted Greenshank) may number as few as 1,000 individuals. The conservation of New Zealand's migratory birds will also be affected by the reclamation, as Bar-tailed Godwits from New Zealand migrate through South Korea.

The South Korean government has forged ahead on this project, which was designed by the military government of the 1980s, despite widespread opposition from local and international conservation groups, local fishing communities, and religious groups. A 33 km long seawall that will enclose the estuaries is 80% completed. When finished, the project will destroy a critical habitat for shorebirds, as well as greatly reduce the sediment and freshwater reaching the Yellow Sea.

It is impossible to view the development as anything but an environmental catastrophe.

This week, a Korean court ruled that all construction activities in the project must stop as it found that the reservoirs created by the project will be too polluted to use as proposed and the expense of resolving water pollution issues too high. A higher court will review the project and decide how to proceed. A decision is expected within 2-3 months, though locals in South Korea believe it could be as soon as 2-3 weeks.

Prime Minister Helen Clark's visit to South Korea provides a timely opportunity to express concern at development of the Seamangeum area. New Zealand has responsibilities under the Ramsar Convention, the Bonn Convention of Migratory Species, and the Convention on Biological Diversity. The conservation of birds such as the Bar-tailed Godwit is affected by the Seamangeum reclamation project.

I encourage the New Zealand government to take a message from the people of New Zealand to the South Korean government, to point out our concern at the reclamation of their tidal flats. The ecological implications of this land-claim extend from Alaska to Australia and New Zealand. Such a project would not be allowed in New Zealand. We believe that the raising of the matter by the New Zealand government would carry great weight and demonstrate that New Zealand takes its international conservation responsibilities seriously.

Yours sincerely,

Phil Battley