안녕하세요 새와 생명의 터 회원 여러분! 김락현입니다.
올 7월 초에 호주 뉴카슬대학교 (The University of Newcastle)에서 새와 생명의 터와 함께 “새만금 도요∙물떼새 모니터링 프로그램” (SSMP)의 공동주체인 호주∙뉴질랜드 섭금류 연구소 (Australasian Wader Studies Group)의 주관으로 열렸던 제6차 오스트랄라시아 도요∙물떼새 학회 (Australasian Shorebird Conference)에 다녀와서 보고 느낀점을 회원님들과 함께 공유하고자 이 글을 올립니다.
시드니에서 차로 약 두 시간 정도 북쪽으로 이동하면 있는 Newcastle이란 도시에, 호주, 뉴질랜드 뿐만 아니라 태국, 일본, 중국, 한국 등 세계 각지에서 오신 백여 명이 참가하셨고, 이틀 동안 21개의 발표와 3개의 포스터 전시가 있었습니다.
이번 학회 주제인 “Migratory Shorebirds in a Threatened Flyway” (위협받는 비행로의 이동성 도요∙물떼새)에 맞게 전반적으로 황해지역, 특히 새만금에서 일어나고 있는 일에 대한 우려가 주를 이루었습니다. 저를 비롯한 (New Zealand), Mr. Nial Moores (Korea), Mr. Mark Barter (Australia), Mr. Siriya Sripanomyom (Thailand), Dr. Hitoha E. Amano (Japan), Ms. Hong Yan Yang (China) 께서 황해지역의 서식지 파괴에 대해서 직간접적으로 다뤘고, 특히 Moores 선생님과 Barter선생님의 발표는 각각 황해의 한국편과 중국편 해안에서 벌어지고 있는 대규모 간척사업들을 이야기하셨습니다. 또한 Amano 박사님은 지난 20년간 일본의 도요∙물떼새 개체수가 일본의 연안간척사업들로 인해 40%이상 감소했다는 점을 말씀해주셨습니다.
Mr. Mark Barter - Wetland International, 호주 환경부 공동 발행 Shorebirds of the Yellow Sea (2002)의 저자 -
이번 학회를 계기로 이런 위협에 대응해서 진행되고 있는 “새만금 도요∙물떼새 모니터링 프로그램” (SSMP)의 중요성에 대해 다시 한번 모두들 공감 할 수 있었습니다. 국내에서 해외의 NGO의 전문가들과 함께 협력하여 새만금 간척사업이 오스트랄라시아와 시베리아/알래스카를 오가는 도요∙물떼새에게 어떤 악영향을 초래하는지, 그리고 정부가 주장하듯 금강하구가 새만금이 사라진 후에 새만금의 새를 모두 수용할 수 있는 대체 서식처로 작용할 것인지의 여부 등에 대해서 과학적인 데이터를 수집하고 분석해서, 내년 우리나라에서 열리는 제10차 람사총회에 제출하겠다는 의지를 학회 참석하신 분들 공감하고 그 중요성을 인지하셨습니다. 그리고 무엇보다 반가운 것은 내년 제3차 SSMP에 한국을 방문해서 봉사하시겠다고 약속하신 분이 몇몇 계셨다는 점입니다. 제가 마지막으로 Moores선생님께 들었을 때는 네 분이었는데 그 후로 더 늘었는지는 모르겠습니다.
또한 새만금의 파괴로 인해서 동아시아-오스트랄라시아 비행로에서 가장 중요한 철새 중간기착지로 승격한 압록강 하구의 자연보호지역 (Yalu Jiang Natural Reserve)에서 관리자로 일하시는 Mr. Guangming Zhang이 오셔서 뉴질랜드의 미란다 도요∙물떼새 센터 (Miranda Shorebird Centre)와 파트너쉽을 통해 어떻게 보호지역이 관리되고 있는지 소개해주셨습니다. 국내에서도 해외NGO와의 협력을 통해 보호∙관리될 수 있는 기회가 많아지길 기대해 봅니다.
학회 주제가 호주 밖에서 오스트랄라시아를 오가는 새들을 위협하는 개발요소들이었지만, 호주도 잘하고 있는 것이 없다는 목소리도 있었습니다. 특히 제 발표 중 있었던 새만금 삼보일배 영상은 외국에 잘 알려지지 않은 한국에서의 시민사회의 저항과 노력을 소개하였고, 이런 국책사업을 저지하는 것이 얼마나 어려운 일인가를 단적으로 보여주는 계기가 되었던 것 같습니다. 이 분 길이의 영상을 보는 동안 눈물을 흘렸다며 발표 후에 제게 말씀해주신 분들도 계셨으며, 한 호주 분은 며칠 후에 있을 환경단체 모임에서 동료들에게 보여주고 싶다며 삼보일배를 가르쳐달라고까지 하셔서 인상 깊었습니다.
끝으로 호주 환경부의 Jason Ferris선생님과 Wetlands International-Oceania의 Doug Watkins선생님께서 정부와 비정부단체가 어떻게 동아시아-오스트랄라시아 비행로 보전에 기여할 수 있을 것인가에 대한 토론으로 학회를 마무리 지었습니다. 내년 한국에서 람사총회가 열리는 시점에서 해외에서 어떠한 노력을 기울여야 하는가에 대해 이야기하였고, 과학적인 접근, 시민사회의 지속적인 관심과 참여, 비정부단체와 정부의 파트너쉽, 국제적인 비정부단체들의 협력에 대한 중요성을 다시 한번 다짐했습니다.
방안을 발표 중인 Mr.Doug Watkins - AWSG/Wetland International
다음 학회는 2년후에 있을 예정입니다. 그땐 좀 더 기쁜 소식을 나눌 수 있는 자리가 될 수 있길 기원해봅니다.
저는 중1마치고 뉴질랜드로 이민간 지 12년이 되어가는 교포입니다. 현재 뉴질랜드의 오클랜드 대학교에서 국제환경법/환경지리학 분야 박사과정에 있습니다. 올해 초에 제2차 SSMP에 참여해서 봉사하였고, 그 후로 열심히 일하려고 노력하는 새와 생명의 터 회원으로 있습니다. 여러분들과 활발한 교류를 가지고 함께 나누고 싶은 것이 많습니다. 시간 나시면 email@example.com으로 이메일 보내주세요.
The Background, Results and Successes of the SSMP to date.
July 1st, 2007
Nial Moores, Birds Korea,
1009 Ho, 3-Dong, Samik Tower Apt., Namcheon 2-Dong, Su Young Gu,
Busan, 613762, Republic of Korea.
As probably everybody present here today already knows all too well, Saemangeum is the name given to the world’s largest ongoing reclamation project, as well as to the combined estuaries of the Mangyeung and Dongjin Rivers – until 2006, South Korea’s and the Yellow Sea’s most important shorebird site (Barter, 2002). Planned during military rule in the 1970s and 1980s, the Saemangeum reclamation project was officially started in 1991. This reclamation, in line with national law, was originally planned to create land for agriculture. The massive 33-km long outer seawall, the world’s longest, took 15 years to build (partly because of delays caused by court battles), and was completed in April 2006. With changes in national food-habits and due to the project’s flawed design, 40,100 hectares (401 square km) of sea-shallows and tidal-flats are now set to be lost through this reclamation − and yet there is still no clear end use for either the reservoir or the land that will be made. Vehemently opposed by environmental and civil groups especially post-1998, interest in the Saemangeum reclamation in Korea has now, like the tidal-flats themselves, largely dried-up since seawall closure.
Without the Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program (SSMP) presently being conducted by Birds Korea and the Australasian Wader Studies Group (AWSG), we believe that the Saemangeum reclamation would more or less be a dead issue – with perhaps nothing much learnt or gained from years of campaigning and lobbying. Many of us in Korea also believe that without the SSMP, the Geum Estuary (another key shorebird site) would already also have been lost to reclamation. The SSMP, with its combination of science and advocacy, is proving enormously important for gathering data, shaping a conservation strategy towards Saemangeum, confirming the extreme importance of the Geum Estuary, not least for species like the Endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer, and ultimately helping protect the Geum Estuary, and (we aim) other sites from reclamation.
Before talking a little about the birds and the data generated by the SSMP, it is necessary to introduce Birds Korea in some detail, both because our organization is not yet so well-known, and because through this introduction it should become much easier to understand the SSMP: why it is the way it is, and why it is proving such an effective and important conservation tool.
Birds Korea, in contrast to the AWSG with its near 26 year-long history, is a new group, emerging in 2004 out of a website-based lobbying group we started in 2001 called WBKE. We now have approximately 300 fee-paying domestic members, 450 or so “free” international members, a small office in Busan (South Korea’s second city), and uniquely for a Korean environmental NGO, a decision-making structure consisting of both Korean nationals and non-nationals, and regularly-updated websites in both Korean (www.birdskorea.or.kr) and English (http://www.birdskorea.org).
Birds Korea is dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats in South Korea and, as much as our capacity allows, the wider Yellow Sea Eco-region. This Eco-region forms the core breeding area for numerous threatened taxa (e.g. Moores et al., 2001) including the Saunders’s Gull Larus saundersi, Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes and the Eastern Oystercatcher Haematopus (ostralegus) osculans, as well as supporting a massive fisheries industry and of course a very significant percentage of the Flyway’s shorebirds (e.g. Barter, 2002; Barter 2005). As more than 90% of Korea’s bird species are migratory and the majority of our bird species of Special Conservation Concern are also wetland species, Birds Korea focuses largely on migratory waterbirds and the internationally important wetlands that support them. Our logo therefore contains images of several of Korea’s more representative and threatened waterbirds, representing the key species groups of the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Strategy (2001-2005): the Baikal Teal Anas formosa (Vulnerable), the White-naped Crane Grus vipio (Vulnerable)/Red-crowned Crane Grus japonensis (Endangered), the Black-faced Spoonbill Platelea minor (Endangered), and of course, the Endangered or even Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus, fast-declining with a population now estimated at less than 1000 individuals (Syroechkovski, E. 2005; Zockler et al., in prep).
The bulk of our day-to-day work consists of surveys and report-writing, open birdwatching days, training programs and education camps (including for the Ministry of Environment), and of course lobbying for the conservation of internationally important wetlands. Many of South Korea’s 65 or so internationally important wetlands for waterbirds have already been or are threatened with reclamation or significant degradation (Moores, 1999a; Moores, 2002; Moores 2006), not only Saemangeum, but including for example Song Do in Incheon (until recently Korea’s most important site for the Vulnerable Relict Gull Larus relictus), and the Nakdong Estuary in Busan. The Nakdong Estuary, while still internationally important for shorebirds and one of Korea’s more protected wetlands on paper, is now much degraded through a series of reclamation projects and the ongoing construction of a major highway (the Miyeonji Bridge) right through a recently-restored area. Between 18th-20th September, 1970, this estuary, like Saemangeum at least in the 1990s, supported possibly “several hundred” Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Gore and Won, 1971). Since estuarine barrage closure in the late 1980s, however, the Nakdong Estuary has supported significantly fewer than ten Spoon-billed Sandpiper a year – the majority of them juveniles in September.
Helping to internationalise so-called domestic issues such as threats to these internationally important wetlands is one way in which we work to increase the profile of our campaigns, involve experienced specialists, and help build domestic awareness of and support for international conventions like Ramsar, through which the conservation ministries and other governments can voice their legitimate concerns. Such work seems especially needed in South Korea – the world’s 11th biggest economy, located on a war-divided peninsula, with significant trans-boundary and shared-sea issues (with China to the west and Japan to the east); with a poor domestic legal framework for conservation (e.g. Kim, 2006) in a domestic political landscape that is driven by powerful ministries largely unresponsive to the needs of biodiversity, including the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Ministry of Construction and Transport, two major proponents (and beneficiaries) of the Saemangeum reclamation process. According to their official websites, the agriculture sector employs 7.4% of the national population and dependent industry accounts for 14% of the Gross National Income, while investment in construction accounts for approximately 15% of the national GDP. This compares to probably significantly less than 0.5% popular membership of national environmental groups, meaning that environmental groups, to a large extent in common with the domestic conservation ministries that we support, largely lack the popular support-base, the funding, or the legal framework necessary to influence major political decisions relating to conservation.
Moreover, most South Korean organisations also find it difficult to benefit from the leverage or support offered by international initiatives. There is little public awareness of either the nation’s importance to global biodiversity or of Korea’s potential leadership role in regional conservation initiatives; there is very little easily-accessible Korean-language information on international initiatives or on technical conservation material (including on wetland management, survey methodology, or examples of the impacts of reclamation on shorebirds); and further, we have no formal NGO partner in South Korea to any of the main international conservation organisations (Wetlands International, Birdlife International or WWF), through which such information could be more efficiently channeled and promoted. As a result, of course, there is no authoritative Korean NGO representation in regional discussions with the Yellow Sea Partnership (a joint initiative of the South Korean and Chinese governments) or in international conventions like Ramsar or the CBD. We remain apparently the only developed nation without such a partner-organisation, even though (according to their websites) Birdlife International and WWF both have partner-representation in more than 100 other nations and territories worldwide.
This present situation greatly limits the capacity of South Korea either to benefit from conservation-relevant information from outside of Korea, or to work effectively through bilateral or multilateral agreements. At the time of writing (June 2007), largely as a consequence, there is still little evidence of widespread domestic support for bilateral agreements like ROKAMBA (Republic of Korea-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement) − which Birds Korea of course continues to promote, especially through the SSMP and our partnership with the AWSG – or international conservation conventions, like Ramsar. The Ramsar Convention has especial relevance at this time of course, as South Korea will host the next triennial conference in October 2008. Despite the efforts of the conservation ministries, and even while the Minister of Environment states that South Korea will use this conference 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), the reclamation and degradation of wetlands in Korea continues largely unabated. Indeed, at present South Korea maintains one of the very worst Ramsar records of any contracting party. The government has so far designated only five Ramsar sites nationwide, covering a paltry total of 4,450 hectares (equivalent to approximately one ninth the area of the Saemangeum reclamation) – compared to a total of over 150 million hectares of Ramsar site worldwide. Among the 155 contracting parties, South Korea presently ranks 63rd in the number of Ramsar sites it has, and 132nd in terms of the area so designated (see: http://www.ramsar.org/key_cp_e.htm).
This general lack of awareness of, or support for, international initiatives helps to explain why major reclamation projects in Korea, such as at Saemangeum, are typically seen within Korea as Korea-only issues. Combined with the domestic political background described above it should become clear why those opposing major reclamation projects by traditional means are much more often destined to fail than not.
Birds Korea is a pragmatic and well-considered response to this situation. And, unsurprisingly, Saemangeum and the Geum remain the single most important focus for our work.
Like many others in Birds Korea, my personal involvement in the Saemangeum issue goes back many years. I first heard of the reclamation at an ICBP, now BirdLife, meeting being held in Korea in 1991; first protested it, to media and by letter-writing in 1992, and through lobbying officials at a Ramsar Conference in 1993 and at the Kushiro Initiative meeting in 1994; and first surveyed the site in 1998, as part of a year-long survey of wetlands and waterbirds (Moores 1999a, 1999b). Despite the efforts of many people and organisations over the years to make the potential impacts of the Saemangeum reclamation well-known nationally and internationally, the site’s international importance to shorebirds and other waterbirds was never considered properly by the domestic courts and was largely underplayed or even ignored by most domestic groups and media. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, one of the main reclamation proponents, even managed to state in 2003, apparently unchallenged by either domestic NGOs or government research institutes, that the Saemangeum reclamation would “attract migratory birds”; and that it would cause no impacts on shorebirds as they would simply “move their habitats to the neighboring Geum Estuary or Gomso Bay or other tidal-flats” (Anon, 2003)! In response WBKE, with Clive Minton and others, prepared a paper on anticipated impacts on shorebirds of the reclamation (Moores, 2003), which we then passed on to a major domestic group for use in the courts. The group did not, however, use this paper. Nor did they apparently pass it on. The legal arguments and press releases at that time remained fixed on the socio-economic aspects of the reclamation (as twenty-five thousand people depended on Saemangeum for their livelihoods) and on water pollution – two essential elements that nonetheless helped keep the Saemangeum issue inside of Korea as a local or at most a national issue, where, lacking powerful support, it could not realistically be won by environmentalists.
This general lack of consideration of Saemangeum’s importance for global biodiversity reached its nadir when the Ramsar Convention Secretary-General (then Dr. Peter Bridgewater) visited South Korea in April 2004. We were hopeful of some major announcement by the Ramsar Bureau that would challenge the project and sway the courts, which were at that time still arguing the legitimacy of the reclamation. According to the BBC, however, the Secretary-General announced instead that the South Korean Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Environment had told him, and he had accepted, that the reclamation would be environmentally-friendly and was “inevitable” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3594195.stm).
We knew then for certain that lobbying as before was not enough. We instead needed a new organization which could work both nationally and internationally and develop a high-profile, scientifically rigid shorebird monitoring program for Saemangeum (hence the creation at that time of Birds Korea). This program we agreed would over-time empower domestic groups and conservation-minded officials, and generate data (in both Korean and English) that the courts, international NGOs and other governments could also access and use. In the best case we hoped that such a program would generate enough data in time to help stop the reclamation from proceeding; in the worst case, such a program would be in the position to record and inform what happens when one of the world’s most important shorebird sites is reclaimed. We also believed, as we still do now, that as there is no easily-accessible example of the impacts on shorebirds of a major reclamation from anywhere else in the Flyway, the value of a Saemangeum monitoring program might well be immense.
Based on our aims and the situation described above we also knew that this could not, and should not, be a monitoring program conducted by Birds Korea and other South Korean groups alone – even if somehow we could develop the necessary capacity in time to do so. Government and non-government data from earlier and ongoing domestic shorebird survey effort − for a variety of reasons, over a number of years − had failed to reach, let alone sway, the national courts, most of national government, or the Ramsar Bureau. We instead needed independent and expert outside help, and the AWSG was the obvious choice. Not only because of the AWSG’s reputation as a leader on shorebird conservation work at home and along the Flyway, but also because of existing monitoring programs and analysis (e.g. Milton et al., 2005), that had for example led the AWSG to initiate the Monitoring Yellow Sea Migrants in Australia (MYSMA) program, also in 2004. A Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program would clearly be of value in interpreting the results of MYSMA data in Australia (e.g. Rogers et al., 2006 a). In turn, MYSMA data would be essential in confirming the impacts of the Saemangeum reclamation at not only the local but also the Flyway-level: key to convincing other governments that the Saemangeum reclamation is an issue that concerns their own conservation agenda.
In late 2004 and on through 2005, Danny Rogers, Phil Battley and myself on behalf of Birds Korea, therefore started to discuss plans for this possible joint shorebird monitoring program. The conclusions: it should be of three-year duration; with fieldwork conducted primarily during April and May (to cover most of the northward shorebird migration, more achievable than the highly protracted southward migration spanning July- October); and it should cover not only the Saemangeum reclamation area but also the neighboring sites identified by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry back in 2003 − the Geum Estuary and Gomso Bay. We started to advertise the program, and invite interest through e.g. the Tattler and through direct mailings and phone calls to people in Korea and in the AWSG.
Several major questions still remained: When should this Program start? How could we fund it? Who could we best involve to achieve our shared conservation goals? The Saemangeum reclamation was suspended by the courts through much of 2005 and early 2006, which led us to believe that we had more time to organize and prepare than we actually did. Two decisions then decided the dates for us. The national government announced that it would host the next Ramsar Convention conference (in 2008), and on March 16, 2006, the Supreme Court made their final ruling: the Saemangeum reclamation could continue, immediately. Both Birds Korea and the AWSG recognised that we had only one more period of northward migration in which to survey the site before the seawall would likely be completed, when the chance to gather benchmark data would be lost. The SSMP would therefore need to be conducted through the northward migrations of 2006, 2007 and 2008. Data would then be ready in time for the Ramsar conference in Korea, with the added incentive that they would be of great potential value in fulfilling the request made at the Ramsar CoP 9, in Resolution 9.15, that: “the government of the Republic of Korea advise the Secretary General of the current situation concerning the sea-wall construction and reclamation of the Saemangeum coastal wetlands, and the impact of the construction works undertaken to date on the internationally important migratory waterbird populations dependent upon these wetlands” (see, (x), : http://www.ramsar.org/res/key_res_ix_15_e.htm)
Two more weeks of frantic fund-raising, meetings, invitations to participate… and then on March 30 and 31st 2006, the first international participants arrived – from Canada and New Zealand.
And already, halfway through this process, we can state unequivocally that all of the effort to set the SSMP up, and to keep it going, have been well worth it − thanks entirely to the wonderful support of so many people. Thanks to all.
So after this long introduction − which I hope explains the origins and hints at the broader potential of the SSMP – what did the SSMP find at Saemangeum, and what are the particular successes of this Program so far?
As reported in the SSMP 2006 Report (Moores et al., 2006), and in Stilt 50 (Rogers at al., 2006 b) and elsewhere, tides were still near-natural in the Saemangeum reclamation area until mid-April 2006. Within days of seawall completion on April 21st, however, tidal range had been reduced to less than 1m, down from 7m during the highest spring tides, and shellfish beds began to die. These banks of shellfish, gaping near the surface of the tidal-flats, were then exploited by very large numbers of shorebirds, of a broad range of species, most especially Dunlin Calidris alpina and Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris. By early May, many areas of higher tidal-flat had begun to dry-out. Shorebird species which had also been distributed in the inner parts of the system in April, began to concentrate in the more outer parts where there was more wet tidal-flat edge, especially at Okgu, where 60,000 Great Knot were counted. While the migration of some species like Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis peaked in April, total shorebird numbers and the diversity of species continued to increase throughout early May, as late-arriving species like Mongolian Plover Charadrius mongolus, Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus, and Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis also started to arrive in internationally important numbers. At the edge of the Red-necked Stint flocks, sometimes mixed in with loose groups of Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus and Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus, were small numbers of Spoon-billed Sandpiper, with the largest group of 21 being found on May 15th.
Based on the simple addition of peak counts for all shorebird species, and without allowing any upwards correction for turnover, the SSMP recorded a minimum 198,031 shorebirds at Saemangeum during northward migration in 2006, with at least 15 of these species in internationally important concentrations (Rogers et al., 2006 b). Recognising that Saemangeum was also extremely important on southward migration (with for example 192,856 shorebirds including a peak count of 123,745 Great Knot counted during southward migration in 2004: KARICO in Moores et al., 2006), this total was more or less in line with earlier (conservative) estimates by WBKE suggesting that Saemangeum supported between 300,000 and 400,000 shorebirds a year (Moores, 2003).
At the neighboring Geum Estuary, the SSMP in 2006 also recorded a minimum 82,990 shorebirds, with 13 species recorded at that time in internationally important numbers. While counting within this area is complicated by high tides and offshore islands, these counts were significantly higher than those made by previous surveys, which had been based on rather less intensive survey effort (e.g. Lee et al., 2002). The SSMP also discovered the Geum Estuary’s importance as a key site for the Endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank, with Adrian Boyle and others finding 69 there on May 17th. The Geum Estuary is already well-documented as the most important known site for the osculans Oystercatcher, a rather distinctive long-billed taxon, isolated in range from other forms by several thousand kilometers, and with an estimated minimum population of only 10,000 (Wetlands International, 2006). Researchers counted more than 30 pairs breeding locally (Lee et al., 2002), while together with colleagues I previously counted 5,700 there in mid-winter (published in Barter, 2002).
Gomso Bay to the south, while large and fairly scenic, is relatively shorebird-poor. The SSMP found only one species of shorebird there, the Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus, in an internationally important concentration.
By April 2007, the second year of SSMP fieldwork, most of the Saemangeum area had become much degraded. Huge expanses of tidal-flat had dried out, and become desert-like, while many of the still-wet tidal-flats could only be reached by boat. The Okgu area which had held the largest number of Great Knot in 2006, was now covered in garbage. Most of the tidal creeks were obviously polluted and much of the landscape was littered with dead shells and even stranded fishing boats.
While numbers of birds within the Saemangeum reclamation area in mid-April were broadly similar in the two years, with 71,711 in 2006 and 68,743 in 2007, numbers in mid-May when the peak of 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, with 66,627 at the Geum Estuary in Mid-May 2006 increasing to 69,263 in mid-May 2007, and a total of 2,681 at Gomso in Mid-May 2007, compared to only 767 in mid-May 2006. However, this slight increase of 4,550 shorebirds at the two other sites combined accounts for less than 4% of the 120,148 decline in the Mid-May total for the three sites combined, 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. Largely as a result, the minimum total number of shorebirds at the three sites combined throughout the whole of northward migration in 2007 was 207,178, compared to 283,203 recorded in the same study area during northward migration in 2006.
We do not know what happened to these “missing” birds. While we recorded a few dead shorebirds in 2006, including an adult Spoon-billed Sandpiper in September, we did not witness any evidence of local mass mortality in either 2006 or 2007. We can only assume that many of the missing birds left or over-flew the area in late April and early May, and were trying to stage at other, presumably sub-optimal, sites elsewhere in the Yellow Sea.
While we can anticipate huge numbers of shorebirds at the Geum Estuary next year, it is hard to predict what numbers of shorebirds or what conditions we will find at Saemangeum in 2008, or what the longer-term impacts of the loss of such an important feeding and staging site might be. Based on the findings of numerous studies of shorebirds elsewhere, including for example Baker et al. (2004), van Gils et al. (2004) and Burton et al. (2006), Birds Korea suspects of course that the impacts of the Saemangeum reclamation will be significant and far-reaching. It is only through the SSMP, meshed in with ongoing shorebird studies in Australia and New Zealand, that we will be able to start to measure with any level of confidence the impacts of the Saemangeum reclamation on some shorebird species, such as the Great Knot, at the Flyway level.
The SSMP does not end with counting shorebirds, of course: it is also provides conservation organizations with the data and hard science to support awareness-raising and advocacy work.
In 2006 and 2007, a total of approximately 70 people have participated for one or more days of SSMP fieldwork, including almost 25 Korean nationals, half-a-dozen foreigners living in Korea, and volunteers from at least 9 further nations, including two from key range states for non-breeding Spoon-billed Sandpipers: Sajahan Sorder of the NCC in Bangladesh, and Siriya Sripanomyom from Thailand. This is therefore already by far the largest and most diverse program of its kind ever conducted in South Korea.
Throughout April and May both years, Birds Korea and the AWSG have been posting SSMP data in more or less real time in both Korean and English on websites and list-servers (including that hosted by the Ramsar Convention), supported by stunning images of shorebirds and the landscape, taken especially by SSMP participants Jan van de Kam, Charles Page and Richard Chandler. This online and popular coverage has been followed by bilingual report publication (Moores et al., 2006) and by a paper in the Stilt (Rogers et al., 2006 b); workshops at four different universities in Korea; a photo exhibition; birdwatching open days; and the use of the data for other ongoing initiatives, including the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Single Species Recovery Plan. Published reports have also been handed direct to (and been well-received by) several research institutes, foreign embassies, and government officials in Korea, and we believe that the data will be of considerable value in responding to the request by the Ramsar Bureau in Resolution 9.15, as outlined above.
As a result of the inclusive and informative nature of the SSMP, domestic and international media coverage of the SSMP was fair in 2006 and excellent in 2007. And it has been influential. In September 2006, at the exact same time that the SSMP 2006 Report was being released at workshops in Korea, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (the main ministry with responsibility for identifying areas fit for reclamation as well as fit for conservation) announced their public opposition to the reclamation of the Geum Estuary. In Mid-May 2007, a press release on Saemangeum and the SSMP by the RSPB and the AWSG for World Migratory Bird Day won huge international coverage, before in turn being well-reported by domestic media. Approximately three days later, the Seocheon local government, the administrative authority over much of the Geum tidal-flat, then announced for the first time their opposition to the Geum Estuary reclamation. It now appears that the Geum Estuary can be saved and will be saved, especially if we and others can keep the spotlight on the site. We will do this by continuing to gather and report SSMP data to the highest level; by increasing participation further; and by supporting domestic and international lobbying efforts. These include government-level meetings, workshops in other countries (e.g. this shorebird conference in Australia, and an SSMP workshop in Bangladesh being organized by the NCC in July), and independent initiatives like the RestoreSaemangeum e-mail website (at: http://www.restoresaemangeum.com), set up by Ricki Coughlan in June.
Birds Korea’s and the SSMP’s efforts for the next few months will be directed at analyzing, publishing and disseminating the data from 2006 and 2007, while at the same time pushing for the sea-gates at Saemangeum to be fully-opened, to allow some of the tidal-flat areas to be restored. We are also campaigning actively for the protection by domestic law of the Geum Estuary, and for its designation as a Ramsar site – something we believe is achievable before the next Ramsar Convention. The SSMP remains at the core of this multi-pronged strategic approach to try to save what can be saved, to win what can be won.
With support from the RSPB Small Asia Grant, from the Takagi Fund for Citizens Science, from generous private donors, and now with the confirmation of major funding for fieldwork for all three years of the SSMP from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; with benthos research plans also developed for next June in cooperation with one of Korea’s top specialists, Professor Hong Jae-Sang; and with the hosting of the Ramsar Convention in South Korea in 2008, the SSMP does look set to grow further, both in terms of participation and influence.
The SSMP has already been an extremely positive program, of great benefit to both South Korea and Australia, and of course of benefit to the birds. If you can, please join us in Korea in 2008, and help to make it the year that the tide really turns towards conservation of the Flyway’s amazing shorebirds.
Thank you for your kind patience in listening to (or reading) this presentation. Kamsahamnida!
Many thanks to all the wonderful participants and supporters of the SSMP, who have contributed time, skills and financial support. Many thanks too, to all in Birds Korea for their support of the SSMP, most especially our Formal Advisor on Saemangeum (Ju Yong-Ki), our National Coordinator (Park Meena), Rakhyun Kim, Geoff Styles, Ed Keeble and Charlie Moores. And finally, on behalf of Birds Korea, we also would like to thank all in the AWSG again for their critical role in shorebird conservation, not only in the SSMP, but in Australasia and along the Flyway. Thanks too especially to Danny Rogers and Ken Gosbell, who have both invested much and contributed even more to the program, as well as Phil Straw and others for their very generous invitation and support of my visit to Australia to address this Conference.
- Anon., 2003. Defence of the Saemangeum Reclamation. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Website (English pages). Formerly at: www.maf.go.kr/maf_eng/issue/issue2.htm (Link now closed).
- Baker, A.J., P.M. González, T. Piersma, L.J. Niles, I. d. L. S. d. Nascimento, P.W. Atkinson, N.A. Clark, C.D.T. Minton, M. Peck, & G. Aarts. 2004. Rapid population decline in red knots: fitness consequences of decreased refueling rates and late arrival in Delaware Bay. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 271: 875-882.
- Barter, M. 2002. Shorebirds of the Yellow Sea: importance, threats and conservation status, Wetlands Int. Global Series, vol. 9; Int. Wader Studies, Vol. 12; Canberra, Australia.
- Barter, M. 2005. Yellow Sea-driven Priorities for Australian Shorebird Researchers. Pages 158-160, in P. Straw, editor. Status and Conservation of Shorebirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway; Proceedings of the Australasian Shorebirds Conference 13-15 December 2003, Canberra, Australia. Wetlands International Global Series 18, International Wader Studies 17, Sydney, Australia.
- Burton, N.H.K., M.M. Rehfisch, N.A. Clark & S.G. Dodd. 2006. Impacts of sudden winter habitat loss on the body condition and survival of redshank Tringa totanus. Journal of Applied Ecology 43: 464-473.
- Gore, M. E. J. & Won, P-O. 1971. Birds of Korea. Seoul: Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch in conjunction with Taewon Publishing company.
- Lee, H-S, Yi, J-Y, Kim, H-C, Lee, S-W and Paek W-K. 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.
- KARICO. 2004. Habitats and Shelters for Migratory Birds. Rural Development Corporation Research Institute. 112 pages (In Korean)
- Kim, R. 2006. National Implementation of the Ramsar Convention and the Legal Protection of Coastal Wetlands in Korea. Unpublished/in press Master’s Thesis. Available as PDF-file
- Milton, D., Minton, C. & K. Gosbell. 2005. Are Populations of Migratory Shorebirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway at Risk of Decline? Pages 148-152 in P. Straw, editor. Status and Conservation of Shorebirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway; Proceedings of the Australasian Shorebirds Conference 13-15 December 2003, Canberra, Australia. Wetlands International Global Series 18, International Wader Studies 17, Sydney, Australia.
- Moores, N. 1999 a. Korean Wetlands Alliance National NGO Wetlands Report: Ramsar 1999. 142 pages. Published by Yullinmaul, Seoul.
- Moores, N. 1999 b. A survey of the distribution and abundance of shorebirds in South Korea during 1998-1999. Stilt 34: 18-29.
- Moores, N. 2002. Wetlands: Korea’s most-threatened habitat. OBC Bull. Number 36: 55-60.
- Moores, N. 2003. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s Defence of The Saemangeum Reclamation: Credible Science or Wishful Thinking? (Online at: http://www.birdskorea.org/MAFrebuttal.asp)
- Moores, N. 2006. South Korea’s shorebirds: A Review of Abundance, Distribution, Threats and Conservation Status. Stilt 50: 62-72..
- Moores, N. Kim S-K, Park S-B & T. Sadayoshi (eds). 2001. Yellow Sea Ecoregion: Reconnaissance Report on Identification of Important Wetland and Marine Areas for Biodiversity. Volume 2: South Korea. Published by WBK and WWF-Japan, Busan. 142 pages (published in Korean and English-language versions).
- Moores, N., P. Battley, D. Rogers, M-N Park, H-C Sung, , J van de Kam & K Gosbell. 2006. Birds Korea – AWSG Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program Report, 2006. Birds Korea Publication, Busan.
- Rogers, D. I, Rogers, K., Gosbell, K. & C. Hassell. 2006 a. Causes of Variation in Monitoring Surveys: Insights from Non-breeding Counts in North-western Australia, 2004-1005. Stilt (50): 176-193.
- Rogers, D.I, Moores, N. & P. Battley. 2006 b. Northwards Migration of Shorebirds through Saemangeum, the Geum Estuary and Gomso Bay, South Korea, in 2006. Stilt 50: 73-89.
- Syroechkovski, E. 2005 The Spoon-billed Sandpiper on The Edge. A Review of Breeding Distribution, Population Estimates and Plans for Future Research in Russia. Pages.169-174 in P. Straw, editor. Status and Conservation of Shorebirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway; Proceedings of the Australasian Shorebirds Conference 13-15 December 2003, Canberra, Australia. Wetlands International Global Series 18, International Wader Studies 17, Sydney, Australia.
- van Gils, J.A., T. Piersma, A. Dekinga, B. Spaans & C. Kraan. 2006. Shellfish dredging pushes a flexible avian top-predator out of a protected marine ecosystem. Public Library of Science Biology (in press).
- Wetlands International. 2006. Waterbird Population Estimates – Fourth Edition. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
- Zöckler, C. C., E.E. Syroechkovski Jr. & G. Bunting. (in prep.). International Single Species Action Plan for the Conservation of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus. On behalf of Birdlife International and the CMS.