Birds Korea Press Release: October 11, 2007



1) Birds Korea Press Release: October 11, 2007

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Saemangeum

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper is a small and very highly specialised shorebird, breeding in North-east Siberia and spending the winter in Bangladesh and South Asia. It needs very food-rich tidal-flats and open estuaries,and as a result almost the whole world population migrates through the Yellow Sea on migration in both spring (April-May) and autumn (July-October).

South Korea is now recognised as the most important country in the world for this species on migration. The largest flocks recorded on migration anywhere have been at the Nakdong Estuary (in the 1970s) and Saemangeum (in the 1990s).

In recent decades, this charismatic and now highly endangered species has declined very rapidly, from possibly tens of thousands remaining in the 1970s, to only 3000 or soby the year 2000. Based on research on the Russian breeding grounds and on coordinated surveys in wintering areas, the total population was estimated at only 350 pairs in 2005. Following further research in 2006 and 2007, the total population has now been estimated at a maximum 200 and 300 pairs, and a minimum only 100 pairs remaining worldwide.

The main reason for the decline of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper is the reclamation of tidal-flats (through projects such as the Saemangeum reclamation), and the degradation of estuaries (e.g. through the construction of estuary barrages).

Approximately 180 Spoon-billed Sandpiper were counted in autumn at Saemangeum by government researchers in the late 1990s. Following completion of the seawall in April 2006, only four were seen at Saemangeum in autumn 2006 (on September 8th), and only one in Saemangeum in autumn 2007 (on October 5th). Numbers recorded in spring are declining too.

Birds Korea knows of only 20 Spoon-billed Sandpiper in total recorded in Korea in autumn 2007 - with 14 at the Geum Estuary, 1 at Saemangeum and5 at the Nakdong Estuary. On present knowledge, only one other site in the world has supported more than one Spoon-billed Sandpiper in autumn 2007: Hakata Bay in Japan, with 4.

Saemangeum is being reclaimed; the Geum Estuary is still threatened with reclamation and the Nakdong Estuary is now apparently threatened with a proposed 'floating airport' plan. Hakata Bay too is suffering the effects of a large-scale reclamation project.

Birds Korea is the Korean representative organisation in the global Spoon-billed Sandpiper Recovery team, and has conducted extensive research at key sites for the species in Korea, including leading the international Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program.

Birds Korea Director Nial Moores states: " Research by Birds Korea and other organisations is showing clearly how the Saemangeum reclamation is causing huge impacts on migratory shorebirds like the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. South Korea isnow preparing to host the next 'wise Use of Wetlands' Ramsar Convention conference, in October 2008.This Ramsar Convention obligates contracting governments to maintain populations of migratory waterbirds. The Saemangeum reclamation and projects like the proposed floating airport in the Nakdong estuary, however,clearly threaten the Spoon-billed Sandpiper and other tidal-flat species with imminent extinction."

On October 11th, the global conservation organisation Birdlife International ( will release a global press statement on the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Birds Korea are the Korean contact point for this press release.

On October 13th, Dr. Christoph Zockler (the coordinator of the international Spoon-billed Sandpiper Recovery Team) and Dr. Mike Crosby (Research and Data Manager, Birdlife International) will meet at Saemangeum and the Geum with Birds Korea Director, Mr. Nial Moores (, Birds Korea National Coordinator Ms. Park Meena, Birds Korea Formal Advisor on Saemangeum Mr. Ju Yong-Ki and other key activists (including members of the Nakdong Estuary Conservation Group), to discuss the conservation of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper and to conduct joint media interviews on the impacts of reclamation on this extremely rare migrant bird.

For more details on the October 13th schedule, and to request images of Spoon-billed Sandpiper for media use, please contact:

Birds Korea National Coordinator, Ms Park Meena

Tel: 011 837 0804


Birds Korea Formal Advisor on Saemangeum and the Geum Estuary, Mr. Ju Yong-Ki

Tel: 018. 221. 7977




2) The Birdlife International Press Release

can now be found at: Birdlife International Press Release



3) RSPB Press Release

Knife in the back for spoon-billed bird

One of the world’s most unusual birds has suffered a second blow to its chances of survival. The spoon-billed sandpiper, a small wading bird with a spatula-shaped bill, has declined by 70 per cent in 20 years on breeding grounds in Russia where conservationists fear only 100 pairs remain. Disturbance by dogs roaming wild from nearby villages is largely responsible for losses of these ground-nesting birds that migrate 15,000 miles to and from their Arctic nesting sites each year. Their demise in Russia follows the drainage of Saemangeum wetland in South Korea, previously the most important refuelling stop-over for spoon-billed sandpipers and many other long-distance species. The RSPB and BirdLife International believe that protection for Russian nesting sites is now the only way to stop the spoon-billed sandpiper from going extinct. John O’Sullivan, an international specialist at the RSPB, said: “These birds are in very serious trouble. They nest close to villages and are easy targets for the dogs, which frighten adult birds from nests and take their eggs and young. “These dogs are huskies, guard dogs or hunting dogs, all owned but living outside and roaming in packs. This is the most immediate problem the birds are facing but egg collecting, hunting and the melting of permafrost because of climate change could also be affecting them.” Spoon-billed sandpipers are the rarest birds in the Arctic. Worldwide, they have plunged in number by 80 per cent in the last 40 years and on some breeding sites in Russia’s Chukotka and Kamchatka provinces by more than two thirds in two decades. Conservationists say up to ten wardens are needed to patrol nesting sites to ward off the dogs and other threats. “They would keep a close eye on the nests and work with villagers to control their dogs,” Mr O’Sullivan said. “They would be local people and would understand how to influence others living in the villages. Most locals don’t know just how rare these birds are. The wardens would educate both adults and children and would find their own solutions to problems.”

Spoon-billed sandpipers have also been harmed by the completion 18 months ago of a 20-mile wall blocking out the sea from Saemangeum wetland, on South Korea’s Yellow Sea coast. The area has become a wasteland, prompting a public outcry. About 70,000 hectares of coastal wetlands have been lost to Korean drainage projects threatening more than 30 bird species with starvation.

The RSPB’s Sarah Dawkins has worked with Birds Korea studying the birds of Saemangeum. She said: “The Yellow Sea is the East Asian equivalent of Britain’s estuaries and the Wadden Sea combined. It is by far the most important staging post for migrating birds in the region. The problems in Russia mean spoon-billed sandpipers are facing a double whammy. We must do everything we can to save those that remain and give them a chance of increasing their numbers.”

BirdLife International is appealing for funds to pay for wardens in Chukotka. Richard Grimmett, BirdLife’s Global Conservation Manager, said: “The recent declines have shocked those concerned about the spoon-billed sandpiper but with investment and dedication we can still save the species.” Evgeny Syroechkovskiy, Vice President of the Russian Bird Conservation Union, said: “If declines in Russia continue, these amazing birds won’t be around for much longer. There is no doubt that these birds are close to extinction and protecting their breeding sites is the first, most important step we can take. Action to safeguard them needs to be taken now, for there to be any chance of saving them.” Ends


John O’Sullivan: 01767 693161. Martin Fowlie BirdLife International: 01223 279813 / 07899 045106 / Cath Harris, RSPB 07739 921464.

Images: Please call Cath Harris or Martin Fowlie for images of spoon-billed sandpipers.

Notes to editors:

  • The spoon-billed sandpiper, Eurynorhynchus pygmeus, breeds only in the Russian Far East. It is 14-16cm long with a reddish-brown head, neck and chest and a very distinctive bill, shaped like a spatula, which it uses for feeding in estuarine habitats. The bird depends on active, sea-washed estuaries on migration and in winter and loss of these tidal flats is its main threat, causing an extremely rapid decline in recent years.

  • Efforts to help spoon-billed sandpipers are part of BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions initiative. The project was launched in August 2007 and aims to save the world’s most threatened birds. More details at Birdlife campaign

  • Saemangeum wetland hosted around 400,000 migrating waders negotiating a 15,000-mile round trip between the southern hemisphere and south-east Asia, and breeding sites in Alaska and Russia. At the height of migration, more than 150,000 shore birds from at least 34 species sought food at the site in a single day. The Nordmann’s Greenshank, great knot, Saunders's Gull, black-faced spoonbill and Chinese egret are other rare birds that depend on Saemangeum. More details at and

  • Saemangeum is the number one staging site for the region’s migrating birds. The second and third most important refuelling points, the Geum and Nakdong estuaries are also in South Korea and are also seriously threatened. Next year Seoul hosts a meeting of the Ramsar Convention, the body that designates internationally important wetlands.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

• The Lodge • Sandy • Beds SG19 2DL
Press office telephone 01767 681577



4) The International Herald Tribune

Russian survey finds spoon-billed sandpiper population on brink of extinction can be found here.