“Waterbirds of Korean Intertidal Wetlands face Extinction”

“Waterbirds of Korean Intertidal Wetlands face Extinction”

Seoul Press Centre, 10:00-10:30 September 3rd
Organised by: Birds Korea/ Microhabitat/Soomdo Center
Sponsored by: EcoScience Institute of Ewha University/Roots & Shoots Korea

Presented by:

Honourable Mr. Park Won-Soon, Mayor of Seoul (Video message)
Professor Choe Jae Cheon (Ehwa Womans University)
Dr. Scott Perkin (Head, Regional Biodiversity Conservation Programme, IUCN Asia)
Ms. Park Meena & Dr. Nial Moores (Birds Korea)
Mr. Spike Millington (Chief, East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership)
Dr. Kim Sanha (Microhabitat)

Key Themes:

  • IUCN World Conservation Congress (Jeju, September 6th-15th)
  • At Congress, five major “Nature+” themes for Sustainable Development
  • IUCN report on intertidal wetlands in East and South-east Asia published (English and Korean)
  • Global scientific consensus: tidal-flat reclamation in East Asia is causing biodiversity decline, loss of fisheries and an in increase in ecological disasters
  • Increasing number of bird species now at risk of global extinction because of reclamation
  • Spoon-billed Sandpiper: 26% annual rate of decline since 2000 – extinction in wild predicted by 2020


An expert report (1) commissioned by the Species Survival Commission of the IUCN (2) has confirmed that several waterbird species of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (3) are now facing extinction. The report has been prepared to support discussions at the upcoming IUCN World Conservation Congress on Jeju (September 6th-15th) (4), and has been translated into Korean by the conservation organisation Birds Korea (5) for release in the ROK on September 3rd.


The IUCN commissioned report identifies waterbirds that depend on the tidal-flats of the Yellow Seaas now being among the most threatened group of bird species in the world (6). The report also identifies tidal-flat reclamation as being the primary cause of decline in many of the same species (7). Tidal-flat reclamation and other unsustainable uses of the intertidal zone and inshore waters are also contributing to loss of fisheries and an increase in ecological disasters (8).


Bird species now threatened with imminent extinction include the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper. The Spoon-billed Sandpiper has declined at an annual rate of 26% since 2000, and is projected to become extinct in the wild by 2020 unless urgent conservation actions are taken (9).  Global conservation actions taken for the species in recent years include a captive breeding programme in the UK(10), and a hunting reduction program in the Bay of Bengal.


In the Republic of Korea, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper was formerly present in large numbers in the Nakdong Estuary and at Saemangeum, the latter site being the most important known site in the world for the species during migration. Following habitat degradation at the Nakdong Estuary and the reclamation of Saemangeum, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper has declined greatly in the ROK (11).  Survey work by Birds Korea found only 20 during southward migration in 2011 (12). The most important remaining sites for the species in the ROK are now the Nakdong Estuary and the Geum Estuary.


Shorebirds are part of the national and global heritage. The decline in the Spoon-billed Sandpiper warns us that the present development model is not sustainable. Its extinction would signal the loss of the nation’s greatest tidal-flats, depended upon by people, by birds, by fish and by hundreds of other species”.

Dr. Nial Moores, Director, Birds Korea.


The conservation of biodiversity and of the region’s intertidal wetland is an essential component of sustainable development (13).  A motion on East Asian tidal-flats will be presented at the IUCN WCC to address findings of the IUCN commissioned report (14). Urgent conservation measures that will likely be discussed by decision-makers in Jeju include the cancellation of ongoing and planned reclamation projects; the restoration of tidal-flow at Saemangeum and other important wetlands; the opening of estuarine barrages of major rivers; designation of key wetlands as protected areas and Ramsar sites; and improvements in management of key sites, to benefit local stakeholders and biodiversity.  An increase in research and conservation of intertidal wetlands could form an integral part of the ROK’s national program of Green Growth and support the ROK’s aim to provide global environmental leadership.


“If you think there need not be too much fuss about a bird disappearing, think again. The imminent extinction of these birds means that the day of departure of our own species may be near. Nature is so intricately interconnected. “

Prof. Jae Chun Choe, Ewha Woman’s University


The Press Briefing will be followed on the afternoon of September 3rd by a visit to Ramsar-designated intertidal wetland inSeocheonCounty, Geum Estuary, and an event aimed at raising awareness of tidal-flat values and of ways to help conserve threatened waterbird species. In light of the importance of the WCC, we are planning a performance in the form of a mini-conference where we give the animals the opportunity to “speak out”. This event is organized by Birds Korea, Microhabitat,Soomdo Center, and sponsored by the EcoScience Institute of Ewha Womans University, Roots & Shoots Korea. If you wish to participate in the event please contact:


Dr. Kim Sanha (Microhabitat): (sanhakim(at) hotmail.com)







(1).  The 70 page IUCN Commissioned report:

MacKinnon, J., Verkuil, Y.I. & Murray, N. 2012. IUCN situation analysis on East and Southeast Asian intertidal habitats, with particular reference to the Yellow Sea (including the Bohai Sea). Occasional Paper of the IUCN Species Survival Commission No. 47. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. ii + 70 pp.

Available from: www.iucn.org/asiancoastalwetlands
ISBN 978-2-8317-1546-9
A PDF of the Korean language version is available from Birds Korea here.


(2).  IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to pressing environment and development challenges. IUCN works on biodiversity, climate change, energy, human livelihoods and greening the world economy. It is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization, with more than 1,200 government and NGO members and almost 11,000 volunteer experts in some 160 countries. The Species Survival Commission (SSC) contains over 8,000 volunteer expert scientists. IUCN’s work is supported by over 1,000 staff in 45 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. Web: www.iucn.org


(3). The East Asian-Australasian Flyway is the migration route used by many waterbird species that nest inAlaska and Siberia, migrate throughKorea and spend the winter inSoutheast Asia,Australia andNew Zealand. A figure of the Flyway is on p. 2. Conservation of waterbirds on this Flyway is coordinated by the Secretariat of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership, based in Incheon  (see: http://www.eaaflyway.net/contact.php)


(4). The World Conservation Congress is expected to be the largest gathering of conservationists in the world in 2012. The Congress will cover numerous issues under five main themes. See: http://www.wcc2012.or.kr/


(5). Birds Korea is a specialist conservation organization based in Busan. See: www.birdskorea.or.kr

Birds Korealed the Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program between 2006 and 2008: http://www.birdskorea.or.kr/Habitats/Wetlands/Saemangeum/BK-HA-Saemangeum.shtml

Birds Korea is also the Korean representative of the global Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force:


(6). Report Executive Summary: “Observed rates of declines of waterbird species of 5–9% per year (and up to 26% per year for Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) are among the highest of any ecological system on the planet.”


(7). Report, Section 7, p. 11:

“On the basis of the scale, timing of declines, irreversible nature of the threat, direct links to specific reclamations and measured bird losses, and the combination of direct and indirect impacts, this report suggests that by far the most serious and irreversible threat is the loss of habitat caused by reclamation of intertidal habitats for other uses such as agriculture, fish ponds, salt-pans and increasingly ports, industrial sites, tourism and new urban development.”

And Section 9 (Pp. 16-19), “Direct links between species decline and habitat loss due to land reclamation.”


(8).  See Report Table 3, Some documented examples of parallel biodiversity declines in other taxa and increasing catastrophes” Pp. 10-11.


(9).  See Figure 3 (P.7), “Population decline in Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus showing measured current rate of decline and the projected trajectory to extinction if no additional conservation measures are taken”.


(10).  For more on the UK breeding program for Spoon-billed Sandpiper see:





(11).  For more on the decline of Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Saemangeum and in the Republic of Korea, see:



and pages 28-31 of the Birds Korea Blueprint, which can be downloaded from:



(12).  For more on Spoon-billed Sandpiper in the Republic of Korea in 2011, see:




(13). Report Summary (p.29): “The rate of loss of intertidal habitat is greater than in any other flyway in the world. This degradation, and consequent rate of decline of dependent species, is undermining the conservation efforts and targets of countries elsewhere on the EAAF and cannot be ignored without severe consequences. A business as usual scenario has a high chance of leading to a variety of biodiversity loss. Furthermore, the international commitments made by all countries in the region, especially to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, will not be met unless major changes are made to manage the coastal zone in a manner that secures biodiversity and ecosystem services. The indicators of a well-developed nation are not merely economic.  They need to include environmental security including sustainable coastal zone planning that takes into account the importance of tidal flats.”


Both the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (especially Target 7b of the Environmental Sustainability Goals: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/environ.shtml) and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (http://www.cbd.int/sp/targets/) agreed to by the Republic of Korea in 2010 include biodiversity conservation as a core component of sustainable development.


(14).   Motion 032: Conservation of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway intertidal zone, with particular reference to the Yellow Sea and its threatened birds, at:


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