Seabirds in the Inner Border Area of Korea – Goseong County, Gangwon Province

Dr. Nial Moores, Birds Korea

Between June 2015 and March 2017, we conducted seabird counts in the divided Goseong County, Gangwon Province.

The report on this research by Nial Moores (Birds Korea), Choi Hyun-Ah (Hanns Seidel Foundation, Korea) and Bernhard Seliger (Hanns Seidel Foundation, Korea & Birds Korea) has now been completed and is currently being translated before wider distribution. In the interim, key concepts and findings in the report include:

  • Seabirds are biological indicators of the ecological health and productivity of marine areas
  • Between June 2015 and January 2017, we conducted twelve seabird surveys, each comprised of land-based and boat-based survey in southern Goseong County, Republic of Korea,
  • In March 2017, we also conducted one land-based rapid assessment from four count points on the DPRK Gangwon coast including Changjon Bay and nearby Haekumgang in northern Goseong County
  • During this research we recorded 40 out of the 45 or so marine-preferential seabird species that are regularly recorded in Korea. We also recorded six seabird species that are either rarely recorded or had not previously been recorded in Korea
  • We found small numbers of three globally Vulnerable  (Long-tailed Duck, Horned Grebe and Relict Gull) and four globally Near Threatened (American Scoter, Yellow-billed Loon, Streaked Shearwater and Long-billed Murrelet) seabird species; and two seabird species currently assessed as Least Concern which as proposed by BirdLife International will be reassessed in 2017 as globally Vulnerable (Black-legged Kittiwake and Aleutian Tern)
  • In total during this research we recorded a minimum 64,000 seabirds in southern Goseong County. This total is based on the summing of the single highest count of each individual species (and not the summing of each of the 12 counts). An increase in survey effort and a fuller interpretation of migratory turnover would increase this number greatly
  • Based on peak counts alone, we recorded six species in Goseong County in internationally important concentrations of 1% or more of their population: Pacific Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Pelagic Cormorant, Common Gull and Common Tern
  • At least one seabird species (the Pelagic Cormorant)  – and perhaps several others – commute daily between southern and northern Goseong County
  • The survey confirms that the Goseong County coast is internationally important for seabirds, meeting established criteria used by BirdLife International to identify Marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (Category A1, “The site qualifies if it is known, estimated or thought to hold a population of a seabird species categorized on the IUCN Red List as globally threatened”; Category 4.i  “The site is known or thought to hold, on a regular basis, ≥ 1% of a biogeographic population of a congregatory waterbird species” ; and Category 4.iii “The site is known or thought to hold, on a regular basis, ≥ 20,000 waterbirds or ≥ 10,000 pairs of seabirds of one or more species”)
  • Available evidence suggests that at least c. 30km and optimally  up to 45km of Goseong coast, from shore out to c.10km can be considered as a single internationally important ecological unit
  • Although not covered in detail by the present research, the c. 25km of coast south of Geojin to Ayajin might also prove to be internationally important for seabirds
  • Conservation of this area and of seabirds in Goseong County, if based on science and supported by open communication with stakeholders, will provide multiple benefits for local people and for decision-makers, through e.g. enhancement of management practices; promotion of ecotourism and the strengthening of brand; by strengthening international relations; and even by providing opportunities for green diplomacy across the inner border region

The high counts of the six species which, based on formal waterbird population estimates in Wetlands International (2017), are in excess of 1% of their known or suspected population and trigger BirdLife’s Marine IBA Criterion 4.i are as follows:

  1. Pacific Loon, with the 1,200 recorded in May 2016 equivalent to >1% and the 3,000 recorded in December 2016 equivalent to 3% of their population.
  2. Red-necked Grebe, with the 600 recorded in January 2016 >1% of their Flyway population of 500; and the 450 recorded in December 2016 close to 1% of their population.
  3. Great Crested Grebe, with the 920 recorded in December 2015 almost 3% of their Flyway population; and the count of 612 in December 2015 >1% of their Flyway population.
  4. Pelagic Cormorant, with the 2,400 in December 2015 representing >8% and the 3,900 in January 2017 representing 15% of their estimated population. However, it should be noted that the estimate for this species in Wetlands International (2017) is extraordinarily low, as at the end of the last century the population of the species within Russian marine areas alone was closer to 150,000 and possibly as high as 175,000 individuals (Kondratyev et al. 2000). If the total East Asian population estimate of this species were revised upward to e.g. 200,000 from the current 25,000 as listed by Wetlands International, then the Goseong coast would nonetheless still regularly support > 2% of this population.
  5. Common Gull, with the 13,700 recorded in December 2015 and the 14,000 recorded in December 2016 equivalent to 13-14% of the population estimate of subspecies camtschatschensis.
  6. Common Tern, with the 1,800 recorded in September 2015 equivalent to 4% and the 2,400 recorded in September 2016 equivalent to 5% of their estimated Flyway population.

At least one additional species, Ancient Murrelet, has been recorded in internationally important  concentrations of >20,000 in Goseong County.

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