Time To Act

How Much Is The Spoon-billed Sandpiper Worth?

Birds Korea needs to raise funds for a shorebird monitoring program at Saemangeum:
one of the world's most important staging sites for shorebirds.

Can you help us?

Juvenile Spoon-billed Sandpipers, South Korea, September 2005.
Photo © Trevor Feltham

While Birds Korea in its present form is only eighteen months old, all of its core members have already been working for several years to oppose one of the worst development projects to be found anywhere in East Asia: the Saemangeum Reclamation.

All members and regular visitors to our websites will already know about this project: a proposed 33km long seawall, the damming of two estuaries, and the loss of some of the world's most important waterbird habitat – key habitat for species like Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann's Greenshank and over 30% of the world's Great Knot.

Over 90% of the sea-wall has already been built, but the estuaries still remain open to the sea and the area still supports huge numbers of birds - an estimated 400 000 shorebirds annually. Opposition to the project has grown enormously over the years and though construction of the wall was on hold due to a court ruling, a recent decision has now allowed the construction to continue. Developers are now claiming that they will close the seawall by the end of April.

Birds Korea is a small group. We have only 600 members, and very limited funding. We believe, however, that what we can offer to South Korea and to the movement opposing the Saemangeum reclamation project far exceeds our size...

  • In a country without an International Conservation NGO like WWF or Birdlife, we can and already do act as a bridge between South Korea and the wider international conservation community;

  • we have great experience in bird research and in advocacy;

  • we have a very long and well-established relationship with the issue and the area;

  • and we have ways with which to communicate our opinions and information to a broad audience, both in Korean and in English.

We know what we need to do to prove the global value of Saemangeum as an estuarine system and to explain the impacts to biodiversity if the reclamation were to continue.

Korean society is now engaged in discussion on the value of wetland conservation (following the recent announcement that the next Ramsar Convention conference will be held here in Korea in 2008), and we need to expose and challenge the false arguments that have been repeated ad nauseam by project proponents, that:

  1. the birds will move elsewhere once the seawall is completed;

  2. the reclamation will actually be good for bird populations (!)

Birds Korea is renowned for its use of solid science. We have already collected and disseminated plenty of data from a number of sources to show the value of the Saemangeum estuarine system to wild bird populations. However, it is clear that we need to gather still more data, to a recognisable international standard, and with a consistent methodology:

  • data that can reveal both the system's present values, and also the impacts on the same birds IF the seawall is completed;

  • data that domestic courts would be able to use;

  • data that the Ramsar Bureau could use (if they so decided) to discuss the impacts of the reclamation with the national government of South Korea.

Such data, both on shorebird numbers presently supported as well as changes in their numbers over the coming years if the reclamation were to go ahead, could then also be used throughout South Korea and the East Asian-Australasian Flyway - as an example of the impacts of reclamation on shorebirds and threatened waterbirds. An example that at present the region largely lacks.

Fully in this understanding, we have already been collaborating for the past year with some of the Flyway's leading researchers in order to organise a Shorebird Monitoring Program at Saemangeum (and adjacent wetlands) starting in April 2006, running initially for almost two months, and to be repeated in later years.

We have already invited international and national researchers to participate (through appeals in Tattler, the newsletter of the Australasian Wader Studies Group; through appeals at symposia; and through direct mailing of researchers, both here in Korea and outside of it), and, as of March 2006, approximately 12 international researchers have elected to join the project – funding their own tickets to Korea, but in need of their costs being covered once here.

To run this project we need - between us - to raise approximately 20 000 USD.

This money will be used to pay for transport; for food and lodgings; and also for the production of materials explaining both the value of Saemangeum and the value of effective monitoring programs.

For a small group like Birds Korea, 20 000 USD is a huge sum of money, money that we now need to raise through appeals to members and birdwatchers worldwide. We believe that the money will be a very worthwhile investment – with value for years to come. The monitoring program will undoubtedly help to raise awareness of the existing value of the Saemangeum estuarine system internationally; it will help to raise the focus on shorebirds and the importance of biodiversity conservation in South Korea (sadly largely lacking up to now); and it will help to gather data on highly threatened species like the Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

By the end of the spring - at the very least - we will all have a “free-to-use” example of the impacts of reclamation on shorebirds to challenge future reclamations projects.

For all of this, 20 000 USD is a relatively small sum of money – a fraction of that spent by project proponents each month to try to sell the reclamation to people here in Korea.

Can you help us to raise 20 000USD?

We have so far managed to raise in excess of 6000USD - in grants and through participation by our members in a sponsored "Birdwatch Day for Saemangeum" (for which we are extremely grateful) - but we are still looking urgently for people to coordinate fund-raising appeals; we are looking for good ideas; and we are looking for donations.

  • Are there fund-raising events that you could help to organise?

  • Grants you know of that we could apply for?

  • Donors that we need to contact?

If you have any ideas or advice, please contact us!

If you would like to donate, please send/transfer to:

Kookmin Bank, Swift Code CZNBKRSE
Account Number: 114001-04-033214
Name: Chon Hyon ae (Saemangeum)

(Please also mail us with your home/email address so that we can send a reciept)

With very many thanks in advance.

Birds Korea, March 2006.