Saemangeum – Chances for preserving what still can be preserved…

Dr. Bernhard Seliger, Dr. Choi Hyun-Ah (Hanns-Seidel-Foundation, Birds Korea), Kim Young-Soo (Hanns-Seidel-Foundation) with the Eco-tourism Team of Jeollabukdo provincial government

A two-day tour brought together a team of the Jeollabukdo Eco-Tourism office with a team of Hanns-Seidel-Foundation to discuss possibilities of preserving some of the remaining wildlife in the great ecological disaster Saemangeum presents today. After several decades of this largest land reclamation project on the Korean Peninsula, currently parts of the walled-off and slowly drying out landscapes are considered for various uses, among them one for ecological preservation in the Northern part of the area (which we did not cover this time), and one for agricultural uses, in the Southern part, which we covered this time. While the sheer size of the project is impressive, it is sad to see how much of a formerly very productive tidal flat has essentially become an endless desert area, sometimes interrupted by sterile concreted canals or runway-like roads ending in the middle of nowhere.

In the surveyed area, there was still a small, fairly interesting wetland with one Eurasian and one Blackfaced Spoonbill each, several other waders, among them as a surprise a Common Ringed Plover, Grey Herons, Great Egrets, five Ruddy Shelducks and two Common Shelducks, Little Grebes and Great Crested Grebes, Common Moorhens, Common Snipes, Greenshanks, Great Cormorants, assorted ducks (Teals, Mallards, Spot-billed Ducks, Pintails, and several dozen Northern Shovelers). This area was divided by a wall from the large, still existing inland waterbody, which is not yet dried out, and might not be in the future. On this several square kilometers of brackish water, there were hundreds of Great Crested Grebes, at least 3500 Great Cormorants or Temminck´s Cormorants flying by on the first afternoon, hundreds of ducks in smaller groups, and several groups of Black-necked Grebes. In terms of raptors, an Osprey, a juvenile Peregrine Falcon, at least four Hen Harriers, several Common Buzzards, a Eurasian Sparrowhawk, and a dozen Common Kestrels were seen. Overflying geese were seen in the morning, and two groups with around 20 Hooded Cranes – probably heading toward Suncheon – in the evening.

It is not yet clear, how the area will developed from next year, when the outside digging works are over. Agriculture can mean everything from highly bio-diverse traditional rice farming, to sterile farming with concrete everywhere and piped waterways. The preparations do not bode well for this, and there is also a discussion of “smart farming”, which can mean only a small area (closer to the inland, which is essentially desert now) with hot houses, or a large-scale area, devoid of any wildlife. At the same time, family tours with farm stay experiences could also be reasonably interested in watching out for birds from the Western road turning point, where an old bird hide has been destroyed by the recent typhoons, but easily can be rebuild and where local guides could point out to birds; not rarities maybe, but enough to catch the interest of visitors. This and other ideas were floated in the discussions with the Jeollabukdo Eco-tourism office, which seemed genuinely interested in preserving at least some of that what still can be preserved  – but will they prevail against other interests? This remains to be seen…

Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri – a fairly frequent bird in the fallow lands with reeds © Bernhard Seliger
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula – Common in Europe, this is a vagrant in Korea © Bernhard Seliger
In some places, pockets of wetlands are still thriving © Bernhard Seliger
Juvenile Peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus © Bernhard Seliger
The desert © Bernhard Seliger
More concrete drains are prepared… © Bernhard Seliger
Long concreted canals devoid of any wildlife © Bernhard Seliger
Chinese Great Shrike Lanius sphenocercus © Bernhard Seliger
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus © Bernhard Seliger
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis © Bernhard Seliger

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