Nial Moores, March 2007
Ten key points relating to this year's SSMP:
First, thank you so very much for your interest in the Program: it is very much appreciated.
The Program will of course run in 2007, “as advertised” (e.g. on our websites, in Tattler and The Stilt etc). Indeed, one local ex-pat birder, Geoff Styles, is already gathering near-daily counts at the Geum, for incorporation into later data sets. The first international counters will arrive at the very end of March, and the very last is set to leave towards the end of May. Discussions are also well underway to increase domestic participation.
The Importance of this Program is ever easier to understand, and even just last week, Saemangeum featured in several world news articles as a “Shocking” example of wetland loss (see e.g. www.foxnews.com/wires/2007Mar12...html or www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17582029/). The site remains still very slightly tidal (perhaps more than 1 m tidal-range when the sea-gates are opened), but it is clear that counting conditions within Saemangeum itself will be very different when compared to 2006. A brief assessment visit (March 17th-19th) found low numbers of shorebirds, thinly spread out, and much of the area at e.g. Simpo, is now dried-out and very heavily disturbed: where fisherfolk, godwits and Spoon-billed Sandpipers had been photographed in 2006, now only a new (illegal?) fish restaurant and cars out on the flats.Fig 1. Simpo, where the Mangyeung and Dongjin Rivers meet: April 2006.
“Birds and People”. Copyright of Jan van de Kam/Birds KoreaFig 2. Simpo: March 17, 2007. Copyright of Birds KoreaFigure 3: Yubu Island, April 2006. Copyright of Jan van de Kam/Birds Korea.
It is also clear that the Saemangeum reclamation has already caused a massive die-off in some shellfish species (see e.g. Hong 2007).
There is, as yet, no reclamation ongoing at either the Geum Estuary or at Gomso Bay, the two adjacent wetlands covered by this Program.
While the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries stated in September 2006 that it opposed reclamation of the Geum tidal-flats, the local government in Seocheon has continued to campaign for “the right to reclaim”. In the Gomso/Julpo Bay area (where Whimbrel were recorded in an internationally important concentration in 2006, and there was a peak of 10 Oriental White Stork in winter) a new group has formed, to push for the area's conservation.
There is happily no reason to expect a decline in shorebird numbers or diversity at either of these sites during 2007.
A count at Yubu Island, an especially significant part of the outer Geum estuary, by Nial Moores, Ju Yong-Gi and Geoff Styles on March 18th 2007, recorded large numbers of Grey Plover (1,800), Eurasian Curlew (2,535), Far Eastern Curlew (1,201), Dunlin (1,300) and Eastern Oystercatcher (633), along with the spring's first 6 Bar-tailed Godwits. This count, when compared with a count conducted in the same area on March 22nd 2000 (Lee et al., 2002), does not suggest any very obvious displacement of smaller over-wintering shorebird species from the Saemangeum area – rather a very significant decline in species like the Kentish Plover (1,500 in 2000, compared to only 8 in 2007!) and Dunlin (6,500 in 2000). These differences could be a product of differences in tide heights in counting days, and due to migration strategies, with these two species perhaps peaking rather later in the month? Counts throughout the rest of the Geum on 17th and 18th also found only 2,112 Dunlin and 2 Kentish Plover.
Numbers counted at Yubu on March 22nd 2000, of Eastern Oystercatcher (690), Grey Plover (1,150), Eurasian Curlew (1,250) and Far Eastern Curlew (1,360) do, however, perhaps suggest the possibility of some displacement of over-wintering larger species (like Grey Plover and Eurasian Curlew) from Saemangeum, and a stable population of migrant Far Eastern Curlew and over-wintering Eastern Oystercatcher (despite a massive die-off of shellfish at Yubu reported by local fishers this winter).
Counts in early April 2007, conducted with the same methodology as in 2006, will of course provide the first opportunity to directly compare shorebird data in all areas pre-Saemangeum seawall closure and post-seawall closure.
In total, we have already over 30 people who have stated that they will participate in the Program this year, ranging from nationals and ex-pats living in Korea, to people from e.g. Australia, New Zealand, the USA, the UK, perhaps Japan, and if further money can be found/received also from Thailand and Bangladesh (the RSPB has also recently confirmed that they will award the maximum Small Grant, 1.8 million Won, to help assist with flights and daily expenses of such researchers once in Korea). There are a further 10 or 20 people who also appear ready to support us logistically and with various meetings, so that we can make sure that the count data we generate will reach the public and the decision-makers. There are also a number of other domestic groups, all challenging reclamation projects in their own areas, who also want to benefit from and share the work we are doing, one way or another. Birds Korea has already received a formal invitation from a major group in Mokpo to support their local conservation efforts during the SSMP (To learn about the issue, please see: www.birdskorea.org//Our_Work/Advocacy/Mokpo/BK-HA-AV-Mokpo-Letter-Mayor-2007-03.shtml).
The project's co-managers have been busy writing and sending off funding applications through the winter and spring – with funds applied for to cover all anticipated costs of all participants: domestic transport, car hire, boats (ever more necessary due to the counting conditions within Saemangeum), motel rooms, and food. We are reasonably confident that most of such funding will come – but we will not know for certain for probably many weeks still. In 2006, we conducted the Program very successfully under the same (very stressful!) financial conditions, and were fortunate enough to cover costs of all participants by the early summer – costs that eventually came to over 27,000 USD in total. At present we have very approximately 7,000 USD equivalent to hand to cover boats and some of the early car hire/used car purchase. Obviously, we hope to receive more funds within the next few weeks and will post when we do…and obviously we also welcome all and any further donations and offers of support. On average, daily costs for participants here will come to ca 55 USD equivalent per day (motel room, if single occupancy, and food etc), and as the program expands, we need increased funding for publishing materials, conducting meetings, for developing education programs etc.
In the understanding of the above, it would be very useful if all participants committed to coming (with sadly no guarantee yet of these personal costs being covered) were to e.g. buy tickets and confirm dates of participation at their earliest convenience.
For those still pondering, either about coming or when to come, we would like to suggest that count coverage looks likely to be weakest in April (with perhaps only six counters able to cover the first high tide series). We therefore especially need additional counters for the early April (April 1st-5th approx.) and mid-April (15th-18th) high tide cycles – not only will there be a fairly limited number of counters, but also we will need to rediscover where the birds are, and how they respond to conditions created by last year's Saemangeum sea-wall closure (on April 21st).
While we do hope to have some counting going on pretty much every day through the period, we also are planning to take advantage of quieter spells by holding meetings, and also of course by getting in some other birding. This whole area is absolutely excellent for migration – with mid-late April the peak time for migrant flycatchers and buntings.
We are still working on polishing up all of the logistics and can and will provide rather more detailed advice by March 24th or March 26th latest. The best plan would of course be to have several international participants arriving on the same dates. Confirmed ticket holders are set to arrive for example on March 31/April 1st; April 14th or 15th; April 23rd; April 29th and 30th etc.
To help with planning, would it please be possible to mail Birds Korea, indicating:
The exact time of your arrival and departure (with your flight details, airline and number please), or intended dates of participation;
Whether you are in possession of an international driver's license, and willing to drive here (now reasonably safe and straightforward, but please watch out for the speed-cameras!);
Whether you have any special dietary or health needs (no major disease risks here – with worst problems a very strong sun, and occasionally a lot of dust in the air);
And, if we can ask delicately, whether you feel in a strong enough financial situation or not, to cover most of your costs.
Finally (for now!), we will soon start posting updates on our websites and we again offer our website and forum for use. Our English-language website has a section on:
Saemangeum (at Saemangeum reference Page) where you can find a lot of past information - and in the coming weeks lots of new information too. This will of course include postings of the latest SSMP07 information.
Travel tips for international participants, at Birds Korea: Travel tips
And an English-language forum (free to join), where forum members will also be happy to answer questions on birds, travel etc. To access the Forum please go to: http://forum.birdskorea.org
(To join, please go to the Red REGISTER button in the top menu. All information entered therein will be confidential.)
Again, with so many thanks for involving in and making the SSMP07 happen. This is an incredible and unique Program, which will certainly have enormous influence on tidal-flat conservation decisions in Korea and throughout the Flyway for years to come.
With very best wishes and birding,
Director, Birds Korea
E mail: spoonbillkorea (at) yahoo.com
On behalf of Mr. Ju Yong-Gi, Dr. Danny Rogers (AWSG) and Dr. Phil Battley (AWSG), fellow Co-managers of the SSMP.
- Hong J-S, Yamashita H. & S. Sato. 2007. The Saemangeum Reclamation Project in South Korea Threatens to Extinguish a Unique Mollusk, Ectosymbiotic Bivalve Species Attached to the Shell of Lingula anatina. Plankton Benthos Res 2 (1): 00-00 (2007). Published by the Japanese Association of Benthology.
- Lee, H-S., Yi, J-Y., Kim H-C., Lee, S-W., and Paek K-W. 2002. Yubu Island, The Important Waterbird Habitat on the West Coast of Korea and its Conservation. Ocean and Polar Research, Vol. 24 (1): 115-121.