Nial Moores, Birds Korea
On March 14th, had the distinct pleasure to meet up with two visiting expert conservationists – Dr. Rob Sheldon (Head of RSPB International Species Recovery – and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper lead for the RSPB) and Dr. Peter Prokosch (Managing Director UNEP-GRID Arendal). Together with Mr. Ju Yung-Ki (Special Researcher, Jeonbuk University and Birds Korea Special Advisor), we visited three of the four main ROK wetlands that still supported the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper in 2011: Gomso Bay, the Geum Estuary and Saemangeum (the fourth is the Nakdong Estuary in Busan). First, we visited the ongoing Gomso Bay Tidal-flat Restoration Project – which surprisingly entails the construction of new seawalls as a way to “restore” salt-marsh and intertidal wetland. As the first project of its kind in the ROK, Birds Korea will do all that we can to publicise the progress or otherwise of this hugely expensive project – nationally and internationally (including at the upcoming series of Flyway meetings in Indonesia, between March 19th and 25th). On March 15th, we then headed to the Geum Estuary, enjoying an excellent meeting (and lunch) with Mr. Lee Joung-Soung (Policy and Planning Office, Seocheon County). Mr. Lee explained the County’s ongoing and forward-looking efforts to try to open the Geum Estuary barrage sluice-gates, to restore some much-needed tidal exchange between the downstream estuary and the upstream river (ecologically, now a reservoir). This was then followed by a visit to the wide, shimmering intertidal wetlands of the Geum Estuary, part-contained within two Ramsar sites. In the starkest of contrasts, we next visited Saemangeum, making two stops at the Mangyeung before driving the 30+km along the bleak Saemangeum seawall. Overlooking the vast expanse of dirty water and dying tidal-flat, it is hard to imagine how anyone, anywhere in the world, would try to defend this as environmentally-friendly. Yet, this is still how this project is being sold by some.
Clearly, much more science and honesty is needed in discussions about Saemangeum, and much needs to be done, urgently: remaining tidal-flats need to be conserved, some tidal-flow needs to be restored, and existing national obligations to the conservation conventions need to be met – with actions, not words.