While some Yellow Sea islands like Chilbal Do in Jeollanam Province are happily well-protected, and able to support significant breeding populations of Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel Oceanodroma monorhis, Streaked Shearwater Calonectris leucomelas and the Vulnerable Styann’s Grasshopper Warbler Locustella pleskei, coastal wetlands remain South Korea’s most threatened habitat.
It is therefore no surprise to learn of further bad news concerning two internationally important wetlands that have both already featured in earlier Birds Korea updates – Seongsan Po in Jeju and Sihwa/Song Do in the Gyeonggi Bay area.
On Jeju Island, according to news received in June from Mr. Jang Yong-Chang of the Jeju Birdwatcher’s Group, the local government has apparently now confirmed that it will push ahead with the conversion of Tongbadal lake in the Seongsan Po area into a marine resort/boat-racing track (for an earlier account of this project, please go to: www.birdskorea.or.kr~asc&no=27").
This area is well-documented as the main wintering area in Korea for the globally Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill Platelea minor – regularly supporting ca 20 or more than 1% of the world population of this species (estimated at 1500: Wetlands International, 2006). Presence of either 1% of a known population or of threatened species should qualify a wetland as fit for designation as a Ramsar site – rather than as a speed-boat racing course. At the same time, a scenic volcanic outcrop overlooking this site has (according to an editorial in the Korean Herald newspaper on June 30th) rather ironically just been designated as part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.
At Sihwa (www.birdskorea.or.kr~news&no=46), just south of Incheon, news received from Mr. Kim Sung-Hwan of a new reclamation project that is due to begin in July, which apparently will entail the construction of yet another new “environmentally-friendly” and “high-tech” development on wetlands that are believed to support large numbers of waterbirds. While more exact details of this development project are still being sought, it appears to include reclaiming part of the remaining tidal-flat area between Song Do New town and Shiheung City. Counts conducted by Birds Korea members (including Dr. Robin Newlin, Mr. Tim Edelsten, and Mr. Nial Moores with visiting birders) at the Song Do tidal-flat in 2007 have again found internationally important concentrations of Black-faced Spoonbill (Endangered, with a peak count of 24 in 2007, or 1.5% of the world population), Saunders’s Gull Larus saundersi (Vulnerable, with a peak count of 317 in 2007, or >1.5% of the world population), Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata orientalis (peak count of 1000 in 2007: ca 3% of the Flyway population), Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis (peak count of 870 in 2007, or 2.5% of the world population) and Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris (peak count of 4600 in 2007, or >1% of the world population), while the following species of special conservation concern have also been recorded there this year: Relict Gull Larus relictus (Vulnerable), Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes (Vulnerable), and Black-tailed Godwit Limosa (limosa) melanuroides (Near-threatened). Both Chinese Egret and Relict Gull have also been recorded in internationally important concentrations in previous years at Song Do, as has Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna.
Again, it is absolutely apparent that this area should be conserved, in line with obligations held under national legislation and through international obligations, to e.g. the Ramsar Convention and the recently agreed bilateral Republic of Korea-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (ROKAMBA). Both Great Knot and Far Eastern Curlew are listed in the Annex to ROKAMBA as species covered by this agreement.
With respect to wetlands like these, in January 2007 the Minister of Environment stated that the Ramsar Convention conference to be held here in Korea in October 2008 “will be a great opportunity for Korea to promote globally its wetland policies and well-preserved wetlands and to enhance the image of the country as a leader in conserving wetlands and the environment." (http://eng.me.go.kr/docs/news/print_press.html?seq=345).
Birds Korea continues to support strongly all that the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries do for the conservation of wetlands, no easy task within the present Korean economic and politic context. However, it is very hard for anyone to feel proud about South Korea’s present Ramsar record, or about the continuing threats to so many of Korea’s nationally and internationally important wetlands. Based on information on the Ramsar website (at: http://www.ramsar.org/key_cp_e.htm) South Korea presently has so far designated only five Ramsar sites nationwide (making it equal 63rd among the 155 Contracting Parties). Further, the total area of Ramsar site so-far designated is still only 4,450 hectares, putting South Korea 132nd in terms of wetland area as Ramsar site. Imminent and major threats to internationally important wetlands such as Song Do and Seongsan Po, Saemangeum and the Nakdong Estuary, and ongoing threats to other important wetlands, as at Mokpo, do very little to enhance the country’s natural resource base or its image as a leader in conserving wetlands.
In the sincere belief that expressions of concern and support from people inside and outside of Korea will help empower the conservation ministries in their work to conserve Korean wetlands and the biodiversity they support, we strongly urge our members to please visit the independent website recently set up Ms. Ricki Coughlan, at http://www.restoresaemangeum.com, and to join her campaign of “Forty Thousand Hectares: Forty Thousand E-mails”. The main thrust of her campaign is to get the sea-gates at Saemangeum fully opened, and to get the Geum Estuary protected by national legislation and designated a Ramsar site. These are very worthy aims, warmly endorsed by Birds Korea.
All counts and comments on waterbird conservation status are from:
Wetlands International. 2006. Waterbird population Estimates – Fourth Edition. Wetlands International, Wangeningen, The Netherlands.
The full ROKAMA text can be accessed at: http://www.aph.gov.au/.../korea_text.pdf
Along with Dr. Danny Rogers of the AWSG, much of June has been spent on organizing Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program data, for the SSMP 2007 Report (due out in September/October) and for more immediate presentations. These included a presentation by Birds Korea Formal Advisor on Saemangeum, Mr. Ju Yong-Ki, at a meeting organized by a coalition of groups opposing the reclamation on June 13th in Seoul, held to review monitoring programs at Saemangeum one-year after seawall closure. Key elements of the SSMP 2007 data include:
While numbers of birds within the Saemangeum reclamation area in mid-April were broadly similar in the 2006 and 2007 (with 71,711 in 2006 and 68,743 in 2007), numbers in mid-May there, when the peak of shorebird abundance was expected, were far lower (176,955 in 2006 declining to only 51,768 in 2007).
The SSMP did record some slight increase in numbers at adjacent sites at that time. However, this slight increase of 4,550 shorebirds combined at the two other sites (Gomso Bay and the Geum Estuary) still accounts for less than 4% of the 120,148 decline in the Mid-May total, with 244,349 shorebirds counted within the Saemangeum-Geum-Gomso Bay study area in Mid-May 2006, and only 124,201 shorebirds counted within the same area, with the same methodology, in Mid-May 2007.
The species showing the most significant decline between years, and most especially within the Saemangeum area, was Great Knot, a species known to specialize in feeding on bivalves. The total number of Great Knot recorded in the whole study area fell from 116,126 in 2006 to 83,403 in 2007. The declines within the Saemangeum area itself were even more significant. Unlike in 2006, large numbers of Great Knot were evidently unable to stage successfully within the Saemangeum area during northward migration, 2007.
Largely as a result, the minimum total number of shorebirds at the three sites (Saemangeum- Geum Estuary-Gomso Bay) combined throughout the whole of northward migration fell from 283,203 in 2006 to 207,178 in 2007, with the Geum Estuary now supporting the majority of individuals (119, 425).
Other Birds Korea work in June included sending a follow-up letter to officials in Mokpo City on June 1st, thanking the City and regional office of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries for their positive attitude towards wetland conservation, and containing advice on steps required to achieve wise use; meetings with members in Busan (which included two induction meetings for potential volunteers at our newly-opened office); improvements to the design and lay-out of the Korean-language website; and interviews with the Busan Ilbo, Busan’s top newspaper. Further media coverage of the SSMP and Birds Korea included an article in The Seoul Times on June 20th by Ms. Rowena dela Rosa Yoon, following a speech given in mid-June by Mr. Ken Gosbell, Chair of the AWSG, in Melbourne, Australia.
Upcoming meetings in July include presentations by Birds Korea director Mr. Nial Moores at a camp on Ganghwa Island organized by the Seoul Youth Center for Cultural Exchange on July 3rd, and at the “Migratory Shorebirds in a Threatened Flyway” Conference in Newcastle, Australia, July 6th-8th. Through the kind invitation and funding support of the Australasian Wader Studies Group, Mr. Nial Moores will present a paper on “The Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program 2006-2007: The Background, Results and Successes of the SSMP to date.”
This will be followed by a presentation by Birds Korea member and Phd candidate Mr. Rakhyun Kim on Korean wetland law and the Ramsar Convention. To round off another busy month, Birds Korea will then be leading a second English Camp for the Nakdong River Basin Office of the Ministry of Environment in Changwon City, as presently proposed on July 28th and 29th.
Two main invitations to help this month (with many thanks in advance!):
Birds Korea is (probably) the only Korean environmental group with regularly-updated “equal” websites in both Korean and English. Work to maintain and update these sites is enormous, and growing. We are increasingly keen to update and modify our English-language website, which has now far outgrown its original purpose when it opened back in 2001, and also to receive additional help with the Korean-language site. Are there any members with experience and advanced computer skills who would be willing, on a voluntary basis, to help format certain parts of the site, or to assist with a complete overhaul of the site? Such a contribution would help us enormously in getting our message out to more people – especially critical in the run-up to next year’s Ramsar Convention conference. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
As reported in May, Birds Korea member Mr. Andreas Kim in Mokpo has been working tirelessly with Dr. Kim Seok Yee to monitor and help conserve a wetland area in Mokpo City close to the Natural History Museum. They are now jointly developing materials for a proposed symposium and exhibition on shorebirds, followed by a birdwatching event, scheduled for mid-September this year. They are presently seeking high-quality images of shorebirds to use at that time. For details of this, please contact email@example.com in English or firstname.lastname@example.org in Korean.
The month was largely warm, often wet, and very quiet bird-wise with few big surprises, until the sighting of four pelicans, presumably Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus, from the Incheon airport bridge over the Ganghwa Channel on 26th (Rene Pop and Arnoud van de Berg). There are only two previous pelican records from South Korea – both of Dalmatian Pelican (once in 1913 and again in 1978). The same observers also saw a female Amur Falcon Falco amurensis in Incheon on the same day (perhaps South Korea’s first record for June) and found the remains of two dead Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha during a sound-recording trip for the Sound Approach made to Chilbal Island (June 21st-23rd), Jeollanam Province, with Dr. Lee Kisup.
Other records of exceptional note in June included a calling (presumed) Sakhalin Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealoides on Eocheong Island on June 4th (Nial Moores and David Klauber), and an apparent mixed pair of starlings, with a male Chestnut-cheeked Sturnus philippensis and female-type Purple-backed (Daurian) Sturnus sturninus apparently photographed feeding young at the same nest in Hanam City on June 6th by Im Kwang-Hwan. (http://kwbs.or.kr~bbsnum=00305).
Finally, a gentle reminder to all of our members, past and present, living in Korea. Birds Korea depends entirely on the support of our members and volunteers. Donations and domestic membership fees are vital to us! Please renew your membership (annual membership fee is only 30 000 Korean won; and life-time membership only 150 000 Korean won at this time), and help us to help the birds!
Birds Korea, June 30th, 2007.