The Baekryeong Wetlands Project: A Short Update for our Members

Birds Korea, November 2019

Since 2013, Birds Korea research has recorded 350 species of bird on Baekryeong Island, with presumed national high day counts of several species, including of 8,000 globally Vulnerable Rustic Bunting in October 2018 and 240 globally Endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting in May 2019.  Several of the species found on Baekryeong Island were previously unrecorded in the Republic of Korea, including a Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus in May 2019.

This first national record was mentioned in an LA Times article by Victoria Kim published on July 19th 2019, entitled, “Can Birds Help Connect North Korea to the World?”.  Perhaps most importantly, this article for the first time correctly describes Baekryeong Island in international media as an “important stopover for birds en route to North Korea from China or Southeast Asia”.

In growing recognition of this national and international importance to biodiversity and of the very real economic and environmental challenges faced by islanders, Birds Korea initiated the “Baekryeong Wetlands Project” in 2018. This project, supported by the ethical cosmetics company Lush (based in the UK) and the Hanns Seidel Foundation (Korea office), has entailed intensive research on birds and additional species groups, including by top amphibian conservation scientist Dr Amael Borzee and Senior Oriental Stork researcher Dr Kim Su-Kyung, followed by the development of a series of planning proposals.

In August 2019, as part of the Baekryeong Wetlands Project, Birds Korea published a report (in Korean only), with publication funded by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. (A PDF of this report is below. To turn pages, click on the navigation bar at the bottom of the image):


This initial report identifies 16 priority areas for conservation action on the island, and presents a range of options on ways to simultaneously improve conservation opportunities, boost ecotourism and increase the value of agricultural produce. The aim of this first report is to raise awareness of the potential benefits of biodiversity (and water) conservation both on the island and nationally; and to help start generate discussion and proposals by those living on the island as part of a participatory planning process.  This is a process that has been refined through the pioneering work of Professor Marcia McNally and Professor Randy Hester of SAVE International, who both kindly contributed to this report’s development.

In early September 2019, we sent copies of this Birds Korea report to several relevant government agencies in Incheon; and also handed out copies at international meetings held in the ROK.

Between October 17th and November 16th 2019, Birds Korea Director Nial Moores returned to Baekryeong Island to conduct more research (with an especial focus on Oriental Storks and their habitat) and to discuss the Birds Korea report with islanders, in order to help encourage further growth of interest in wetland and bird conservation on the island.

On October 31st and November 1st, Dr. Moores was joined by Jeonbuk University Researcher Ju Yung-Ki, a nationally well-known advocate for conservation with decades of experience of working with local communities. On October 31st, both attended – as observers – a formal meeting on Baekryeong to discuss Incheon City funding for a range of development projects. At this meeting a copy of the report was given to Incheon City Vice Mayor for Balanced Growth and Political Affairs, Heo Jong Sik. On November 1st, during survey, several short, informal meetings were also held in the field with different islanders, and additional reports were handed out.

On November 6th, thanks to the introduction of Munhwa motel owner Mr. Park Dong-Sik, Dr. Moores then held an hour-long meeting with the Reverend Kim Ju Seong at the Baekryeong Community Welfare Center.

The Reverend Kim Ju Seong received multiple copies of the report to share with interested persons in his large congregation. Reverend Kim Ju Seong also kindly explained about the island’s long Christian and church history; and shared his own ideas for a proposed “Bible Land” on Baekryeong to promote this history. Agreement was reached to try to discuss these various proposals together further, with the aim of better fusing ecological and cultural concepts. As part of this process, possible Powerpoint presentations to islanders on the birds of Baekryeong and on some of the proposals were also discussed, tentatively to start in January 2020 at the Centre.

On November 7th, Dr. Moores met with Ms Park Jeong Nam of Green Korea Incheon and Ms Yu Sin Ja, the representative of a 20-strong group of islanders who are working to conserve the Spotted Seal. Birds Korea reports were shared with both people. Subsequent to the meetings, two and a half days of bird survey (on November 8th and 9th and again on 11th) were spent together by Dr. Moores and Green Korea Incheon’s Park Jeong Nam. 

During this time, detailed information on the distribution of key species was shared and the continuing presence of two Black-winged Kites Elanus caeruleus, a juvenile first found on November 1st (by Nial Moores and Ju Yung-Ki) and an adult first seen briefly on November 5th (by Nial Moores alone), was confirmed. These two Black-winged Kites comprised probably only the 7th and 8th (and even 9th?) records of this species in the ROK, and were the first records of this species in the Incheon area. 

Encouragement was therefore given by Dr. Moores to a suggestion made by Green Korea Incheon’s Ms Park Jeong Nam to share this information through a Green Korea press release planned for November 13th. This press release, promoting the importance of Baekryeong Island to bird and biodiversity conservation, was picked up by several news outlets include e.g. Daum news and Yeonhap news.

Finally, on November 12th, reporter Park Gyeong Man of the Hangyoreh Newspaper visited Baekryeong Island, to interview Dr. Moores about the research on Baekryeong Island, and in the DPRK. In addition to explaining several of the wetland restoration proposals contained in the report, several additional key issues were discussed. These included the need for a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment as part of preparation for an airport on the island. As proposed, the airport would require a flight descent by civilian aircraft low over the main reservoir and rice fields currently used by several thousand migrant and wintering ducks and geese, and a diverse array of large soaring raptors – exposing both aircraft and wildlife to the very real threat of bird-strike.

Further work relevant to the Baekryeong Wetlands Project includes a presentation on Oriental Stork conservation at the National University of Education on November 21st; and the invitation to the ROK of frog ladder designer Trevor Rose in January 2020, to participate in a series of workshops including in Ongjin County and it is hoped – weather allowing – on Baekryeong Island itself.

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