British birdman fights for Korean environment

Spoon-billed sandpiper
Photo Courtesy of Ju Yong Gi

A recent article in the Hankyoreh, forwarded by Tom Coyner, highlighted another Korean environmental issue which I hadn’t come across before: the destruction of an important mudflat area at Saemangeum on the Byeonsan peninsula on the West of Korea in order to build – well, they’re not quite sure what. But reclaiming 99,000 acres of tidal wetlands, by building the world’s longest sea wall (20 miles), and turning them into landfill is obviously a Jolly Good Thing. They might even build a 540-hole golf course there (the world’s largest), according to the Christian Science Monitor. How depressing is that? Never mind, it’ll bring in the money, allegedly.

Using the Zuiderzee Works reclamation area in the Netherlands as a rough model, the government estimates the land will drive $1.1 billion of tourism income every year. For comparison, Grand Canyon National Park and the surrounding communities earned $338 million dollars in 2003.

And the migrating sea birds?

Environmental groups have decried the wall as one of Asia’s greatest ecological catastrophes. Saemangeum Bay serves as a key staging site for shore birds and is a crucial feeding area for migratory birds of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. The destruction of this habitat, environmentalists warn, will affect bird populations from Mongolia to New Zealand.

But the birds can find somewhere else to feed:

Regarding the problem, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said, “Even if the Saemangeum tidal flats disappear, there will be no problem because the birds can move to nearby Gomso Bay and to the mouth of the Geumgang River.”

British birdwatcher Charlie Moores, who works for British Airways and thus is able occasionally to get away to remote places and do some serious birding, helped launch Birds Korea, which among other things is involved in the Saemangeum campaign. Charlie runs his own birdwatching blog, where he has some great photos. Go pay him a visit.

Update 23 April 2007: A post over at Popular Gusts about Saemangeum one year on. Depressing reading.

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