Tsushima and the Korean Strait: Some Future Conservation Possibilities?

by Nial Moores

View from Tsushima © Markus Truesdale.

Held a meeting on February 13th in Busan with Dr. Kaz Uematsu of the Japanese Non-Profit Organisation NRDA-Asia (NRDA = Natural Resource Damage Assessment), to discuss research needs and birdwatching-based ecotourism possibilities on Tsushima (Teima Do) and in the Korean Strait. Living in Tokyo, Dr. Uematsu has been visiting Tsushima every winter since 2006 to survey, and where possible to rehabilitate, oiled loons and other seabirds. As part of this work, Dr. Uematsu teamed up with local fisher Captain Hosoi in the winter of 2010/2011, to watch seabirds from his boat the “Murrelet 2”.

As most Birds Koreans know, Tsushima at closest lies only 50km from Busan. It is easily visible from here on clear days, and can be reached in a little over an hour from Busan by a regular hydrofoil service. Probably less well-known is that Tsushima is already a popular destination for birdwatchers in Japan during “Golden Week” (a national holiday period that falls during the peak of northward passerine migration). My own first visit there (in late April 1991, when I was still living in Fukuoka) produced my first encounters with flocks of Yellow Bunting (up to 40 in a day!), as well as three national rarities that many birders in the ROK probably most associate with Eocheong: Black-headed Bunting, Pied Wheatear and Northern House Martin. September on Tsushima also provides the best opportunities for counting tens of thousands of migrant Chinese Sparrowhawk streaming out of the Korean Peninsula (and thus for monitoring the species’ apparently fast-declining population trend), and it is likely excellent in late October for seeing migrant passerines and cranes. In mid-winter too, waters surrounding the island also support large numbers of seabirds, including some overwintering Crested Murrelet (a globally-threatened and still poorly-known species).

That Tsushima is important for birds, and especially for the conservation of many of Korea’s migratory bird species, should hardly be a surprise. It lies across the narrowest sea crossing between Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Migrant landbirds use the island as a steeping stone. To reach the South Sea and East China Sea, seabirds from the wide expanse of the East Sea also need to pass through the narrow sea-corridor of the Korean Strait that lies between Busan and Tsushima, or through the Straits that lie between Tsushima, Ikinoshima and the northern coast of Kyushu.

Despite their importance, there has still been no coordinated seabird survey conducted in these waters between the ROK and Japan. Personal observations from commercial ferries between Fukuoka and Tsushima in the 1990s, however, included flocks of Brown Booby and Long-tailed Jaeger between Fukuoka and Tsushima, and flocks of loons and Pomarine Skua, several Long-billed Murrelet and South Polar Skua between Tsushima and Busan. The same hydrofoil also produced the only sight record to date in the ROK of Sooty Shearwater (in June 2002, within 5km of the harbour –just within national territorial waters, restricted here apparently to only three nautical miles). From the coastline of Busan itself, there are also records of Yellow-billed Loon and Aleutian Tern.

Birds Korea’s mission is to conserve birds and their habitats in Korea and the wider Yellow Sea Ecoregion. Conservation of birds within the Korean Strait and on Tsushima is therefore within our wider mission. There is much to do, of course. For example, there is a need to conduct research on seabird distribution and abundance in the Korean Strait; there is a need to collaborate with researchers in other regions (in Japan and also in Alaska – the source area for many of our loons, as introduced in the Blueprint 2010); there is a need to identify and to enact strategies to reduce threats to seabirds; there is a need to identify marine Important Bird Areas (if any) and to conserve them; and there is a need to help provide economic benefits for local communities, in order to support progress towards a more sustainable future. There was therefore much broad agreement in our discussion, and between Birds Korea and NRDA-Asia.

We aim to post more on Tsushima in the coming months, as discussions and collaboration develop.

For more on NRDA-Asia, go to:

For more on seabird watching from the Murrelet 2 or to contact Dr. Uematsu directly, please go to:

Tsushima From Busan © Nial Moores/Birds Korea.

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