The Hwaseong Wetlands: An Important Update

The internationally important Hwaseong Wetlands, with core components that include the 750ha Tidal Flat at Maehyangri and the similar-sized Kia Tidal Flat, as well as the Hwaseong Reclamation Lake and adjacent agricultural and “undeveloped” hinterland

Dr Nial Moores, Birds Korea, May 2019

On May 13th 2019,  Mayor Seo Cheol-Mo announced to the 130+ participants of the second international symposium on the Hwaseong Wetlands that following designation of 4,550 ha of the wetland as a Flyway Network site in late 2018, that the city was now aiming for its designation “as a national Wetland Protection Area in 2020 and a Ramsar Site in 2021”.

Hwaseong City Mayor Seo Cheol-Mo (left) with Mr Pete Probasco of the EAAFP (centre) and Ms Kwon Tae-Sun, President of National KFEM (right) © Nial Moores
Three of SAVE’s planning experts © Nial Moores: Professors Randy Hester, Marcia McNally and Yin Wan-Chih, who presented at the Great Flight of Shorebirds symposium in September 2018, and followed this up with inviting a team of graduate students from University of California Berkeley to start work on a planning proposal framework for the Hwaseong Wetlands, assisted by input from Hwaseong KFEM, National KFEM and Birds Korea, which was has then been further developed by SAVE.
Some of the 130 or so participants of the May 13th symposium and associated media

Along with many in the audience, we warmly applaud the Mayor’s public commitment toward conservation; and are deeply encouraged by the growing recognition by the mayor, by many in Hwaseong City and nationally that:

The Hwaseong Wetlands is a precious global asset…a place for living and resting…a treasure trove of ecosystem where various species live, with functions of self-purification, climate and flood control…(which) can be used as a ecotourism resource

Mayor Seo Cheol-Mo, Opening Remarks, Proceedings, May 2019.

We are also strongly encouraged by informal discussion after the meeting which suggests that the 750 ha Kia Tidal Flat – an area contiguous with the Hwaseong Wetlands slated for imminent infilling as recently as last year – is now considered to be 80-90% free from the threat of reclamation, and might also be formally protected in the future. This could allow for the formal protection of a much larger, ecologically-connected area – perhaps one that could be known in Korea and globally as “Hwaseong’s Peace Wetland”.

This is remarkable and rapid progress that comes after decades of loss and degradation and struggle.

It has been made possible at this time only by the alignment of four major elements:  the strength of scientific data, including shorebird counts (most gathered as part of formal monitoring programs, first in 1988); the growing recognition of the dire state of the natural environment, both within Korea and globally (e.g. climate change, micro-dust, plastic pollution and the sixth mass extinction); an administration that recognizes the need to change direction away from construction at any cost;  and the commitment for conservation of the wetland initiated in 2018 by the collaboration of Hwaseong KFEM, National KFEM and Birds Korea –  and which since the Great Flight of Shorebirds symposium in September 2018 now also includes the EAAFP Secretariat in Incheon, Hwaseong Agenda 21/ Hwaseong City Council for Sustainable Development, and a host of other groups.

Together, we are all doing what we can to bring together fisherfolk, farmers, peace leaders, scientists, activists, planners, managers, families, media and government officials, to help build understanding and trust and to identify some possible positive steps forward.

Meeting with members of the Gooni Village Fishing Cooperative close to Maehyang Ri…© Nial Moores
Followed by lunch and rice alcohol…new ideas raised; new friends made © Nial Moores

It really has taken a very long time to get this far. Back in 1988, the wide expanse of mud and saltmarsh which was called Namyang Bay in those days was surveyed properly for the first time.  It was immediately confirmed to be internationally important for waterbirds “as defined under Ramsar Convention criteria” and calls were therefore made for “Full protection of the site” (Long et al. 1988).  Surveys in 1998 and subsequently reconfirmed this international importance (e.g Moores 1999, Moores et al. 2008; Korea Shorebird Network counts), even though much of the inner part of the bay was being cut off from the sea by a long outer seawall (closed in 2002) and a series of inner dykes .

Only 1,500 ha or so of tidal flat were left intact by the early 2000s – but even these areas continued to suffer intense degradation and threat.  The 750 ha Kia tidal flat, largely surrounded by industrial estates, was and still is all that remained of a 7 km long sandy beach and extensive tidal flat that once sustained the diverse and economically vibrant Seokcheon Ri fisheries. Proposed end-uses of this area – even within the past few years – have included reclamation to make land for factory expansion; a new national port; and an area for dumping waste sludge from the reclaimed Namyang Lake.

In front of the Kia Tidal Flat in Seokcheon Ri, Mr Ji Wonju, one of the nation’s most articulate and passionate defenders of fisherfolk’s rights, describes a lifetime of hardship only made possible by his deep love of the sea © Nial Moores

The remaining 750ha of tidal flats at Maehyang Ri were also threatened, but in a different way.   For 54 years they were used as a bombing range by the US Air Force. As local peace activists and villagers explained to us, even after the end of full-out war between 1950 and 1953, for decades it was like still living in a war zone. Several people in the village were killed; and many suffered from depression – assaulted by noise and unable to access their fishing areas to earn a decent living.

Surrounded by missiles collected from the tidal flat and assisted by lead campaigner Kim Choony (Deputy Secretary-General of National KFEM), Mr Jeon Man-Kyu – a leader of the peace movement at Maehyangri – explains the history of their struggle against the live bombing range © Nial Moores
Nong Island, Maehyang Ri: used as a bombing range from the 1950s through to 2005. Signboard © Nial Moores
The peaceful Maehyang Ri Tidal Flat now, with the islands on the horizon © Nial Moores

In 2005, the movement against this bombing finally prevailed, and peace once more came to Maehyang Ri and the tidal flats. And now too, Hwaseong City is investing in a huge new peace park and a peace museum close to this area.

Local signboard: the new face of Maehyang Ri; a place of peace, tourism and biodiversity conservation © Nial Moores

Helped by expert input from local, national and international practitioners, the discussion on the Hwaseong Wetlands is also now turning towards conservation and peaceful, wise use.   

Currently, there are two main choices: to use much of the wetland for the proposed relocation of an airbase from nearby Suwon (happily, something many local people are fiercely opposed to); or, to counter this destructive proposal by enhancing the wetland’s functions, to make the wetland work harder to deliver benefits to those who depend on it – both human and non-human.

Measures are already being taken by Hwaseong city to reduce pollutants reaching the reclamation lake through the construction of wastewater treatment ponds (which already appear to be attractive to feeding Black-tailed Godwits and Black-faced Spoonbills) ; and much more can be done to help improve fisheries e.g. by increasing tidal exchange to parts of the reclaimed area to restore some salt-marsh and shallow sea areas; to improve agricultural sustainability; and to maintain internationally important bird populations, which could – with proper management and design – over time also become a major focus for responsible environmental education programs and eco-tourism.

Environmental Education now: Some of the participants of a Bio-blitz at Maehyang Ri on May 11th © Nial Moores
“Maehyang” means the scent of Plum: in several places in and around the village birds are depicted to represent peace and a world without borders © Nial Moores

Designation of the Hwaseong Wetlands as a Flyway Network Site, and soon as a Wetland Protected Area and as a Ramsar site are important first steps. Even more important over the longer term will be to build genuine consensus, and to involve local communities properly in the wise use of the area. This will require time, patience and respect – both of other people’s views and needs, and also of the wetland itself and of the myriad of non-human species which depend upon it for their survival too.

Based on the experiences of this week, including presentations on the emergence of Eco-Civilization in neighboring China and of successful campaigning in Garolim Bay, in addition to discussions and events with dozens of genuinely wonderful people met in and around Hwaseong, we now know that this is achievable.

Professor Lei Guangchun of Beijing Forestry University © Nial Moores. One of Asia’s leading wetland conservation scientists, Professor Lei provided a fascinating and very helpful introduction into wetland conservation as part of China’s deepening embrace of Ecological Civilization – one in which society and economy both depend on the biosphere, while the biosphere too has also become dependent on our own economic and social priorities.
Two fisherfolk campaigners from Garolim Bay, Mr Park Jeongseob, on right, and Mr Ji Yoongeun © Nial Moores. Both presented on their successful defence of the sea they love – threatened by a proposed Tidal Power Plant.

A sincere thank you to all – in civil society and in government, including those who live locally and who live a continent away – for making this recent progress possible.

And thank you too in advance to all who will join us in the future, working with renewed hope for Lives, Livelihoods and the Hwaseong Wetlands!

Just a few of the wonderful people contributing to the conservation of the Hwaseong Wetlands © Nial Moores. Our thanks go out to all of the overseas participants of the symposium – including Professor Lei Guangchun, members of SAVE, Katherine Leung of Kalidris Ecological Engineering and Lizzie Bruce of the RSPB; to Birds Korea volunteer Jared Busen (at rear toward the left); and to domestic leaders of this movement, including Ms Kim Choony of national KFEM and Fisher Mr Ji Wonju in the centre, and Hwaseong KFEM’s Jung Hanchul and Park Hye-Jeong, standing behind and to the right.


Long, A., Poole, C.,Eldridge, M.,Won P.-O.,and Lee K.-S. 1988.A survey of coastal wetlands and shorebirds in South Korea, Spring 1988. Asian Wetland Bureau, Kuala Lumpur.

Moores, N. 1999. Korean Wetlands Alliance national NGO wetlands report: Ramsar 1999. Yullinmaul, Seoul.

Moores,N., Rogers,D., Kim R-H, Hassel,C., Gosbell, K., KimS-A andPark M-N. 2008. The 2006–2008 Saemangeum shorebird monitoring program report. Birds Korea, Busan, Republic of Korea.

Shorebird Network Korea. 2013. Shorebird population count report of Korea (2011–2012). Shorebird Network Korea Secretariat, Shinan County, Republic of Korea. [In Korean]

Shorebird Network Korea. 2014. Shorebird population count report of Korea (2013). Shorebird Network Korea Secretariat, Shinan County, Republic of Korea. [In Korean]

Shorebird Network Korea. 2016. Shorebird population count report of Korea (2014). Shorebird Network Korea Secretariat, Shinan County, Republic of Korea. [In Korean]

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