Suncheon Workshop on Potential for ROK-DPRK Bird Conservation Projects

Dr Nial Moores, Birds Korea

On August 14th spent an interesting afternoon in Suncheon – my second home back in the late 1990s –  participating in a public workshop focused on possible ROK-DPRK link-ups for the conservation of migratory waterbirds: an apparently popular focus of public as well as behind-doors discussion these days.   Co-organised by Suncheon City, the Suncheon Bay Wetland Committee and the Ramsar Regional Centre for East Asia, some of the motivation for holding this meeting comes from Suncheon Bay’s position as one of the best-known and most-visited Ramsar sites in the ROK; the understanding that some  of the globally Vulnerable Hooded Cranes that winter at Suncheon Bay used to or still stage in or close to Mundok Ramsar site in the DPRK; and the recognition that there is a town called Sunchon in Mundok County – perhaps offering potential for some kind of site-twinning initiative.

Colleagues from the past (and I hope the future too!): Dr Kim In-Cheol (left); Mr Jang Chae Yeol of the Jeonnam Eastern region Research Insitute (Centre) and Professor Park Ki-Young (on right)

Fellow speakers included two former close colleagues, the wonderful Professor Park Kiyoung (currently Vice-Chair of the Suncheon Bay Wetland Committee), who delivered the Welcome Message, and Dr Kim Incheol (of KFEM and Jeonnam University) who introduced some of the migratory species that stage in Suncheon Bay.

In one of Dr Kim In-Cheol’s slides, it was sobering to see a comparison between our shorebird count data from 1998 and 1999 and more recent counts – presumably conducted  for the Korea Shorebird Network. Note for example the major declines suggested in Nordmann’s Greenshank (from the peak count of 26 we found, to only 7 found in 2014-2015), Kentish Plover, Terek Sandpiper and Bar-tailed Godwit.

 

The first full presentation was by Mr Felix Glenk (Project Manager for DPR Korea, Hanns Seidel Foundation Korea office), who provided an overview of multiple activities undertaken by the HSF in the DPRK over the past decade and more – including helping to initiate the Wetlands Project with the Ministry of Land and Environment Protection (MoLEP) which led to our joint surveys; and has included MoLEP’s becoming a member of the IUCN;  the DPRK’s joining of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership; and the DPRK’s accession to the Ramsar Convention in May this year. Great progress indeed!

I was invited on behalf of Birds Korea to present an overview of the DPRK’s two new Ramsar sites, and to describe some of the bird habitats north of the inner border of Korea. After emphasising the importance of “bird as bioindicator” – through presence or absence, abundance or rarity or change in status – I provided a contrast of bird species found in rural areas in the DPRK and the ROK; shared some insights from surveys and an overview of tidal flat status and reclamation; and highlighted some potential conservation priorities.

Two examples of bird as bio-indicator gleaned from the ROK’s winter bird census (1999-2017): Hooded Crane, which has increased greatly in Suncheon Bay thanks – we assume – to a combination of climate change, reduced disturbance and artificial feeding; and Common Shelduck, which has declined precipitously. The decline is telling us something, but what?

It was truly wonderful to spend time again with friends who I have not seen for several years; and quite encouraging to reflect on some of the progress that has been made.  Although there have been major declines in many tidal flat species since our first surveys of Suncheon Bay back in 1997 and 1998, there have also been some changes for the good.  Back then, almost no-one cared about the bay and its wildlife and almost no research had been conducted.  Together with local groups and a national network, we conducted repeat surveys; pushed to stop sand dredging in the bay; persuaded local and national government to designate the area as a Ramsar site; and now – thanks to a diverse coalition of actors – there is an active community of people who both care for and are working to try to improve conditions for the Hooded Cranes that winter in Suncheon Bay.

A few good people really can make a difference.

How about joining Birds Korea and working together for conservation of birds and their habitats, here in Korea and across the Yellow Sea Ecoregion?

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