More on Scaly-sided Merganser and the Four Rivers Legacy

Nial Moores PhD, Birds Korea, March 13th 2013

Ms. Kim Minseon, Program Officer of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP), has today posted a series of excellent notes and articles on the globally Endangered Scaly-sided Merganser Mergus squamatus. This includes expert commentary from the breeding areas and from wintering areas in the ROK and China:

Although greater efforts are now being invested in researching and trying to conserve this wonderful species, there is little room for complacency. Many threats remain in Russia and China, and several of the rivers supporting the species here in the ROK are even now being dredged and degraded.

Take the river in Andong city for example. In 2000, a beautiful willow-lined and reedy stretch of river on the city outskirts was surveyed by Dr. Kim Su-Kyung (one of the original co-founders of Birds Korea) and found to support Scaly-sided Merganser.  Thirteen birds were counted there, and the record was published and widely cited.  Repeat survey visits found the species there in several subsequent winters.

In February 2012, Birds Korea survey of this same stretch of river found much habitat loss, but still ten Scaly-sided Merganser. On March 10th 2013, I had the chance to revisit the same area with Mr. Jason Loghry and Mr. Ha Jung-Moon.  Although we found two Scaly-sided Merganser upstream in atypical habitat (on a dammed stretch of river), the mood was far from joyous.  The most important stretch of river is now a construction site. Riverside willows and reed-beds have been bulldozed, shingle and sands are being dredged and trucked away, and large areas of formerly quiet riverine habitat have been converted into semi-desert – presumably in preparation for yet another sterile Four Rivers-style park.

Images taken from the same point only 13 months apart demonstrate the conservation challenge.

The stretch of river in Andong that supported ten Scaly-sided Merganser in February 2012.  Image copyright of Nial Moores / Birds Korea.

The same stretch of river, March 10th 2013. Image copyright of Nial Moores / Birds Korea.


How can this kind of destructive Four Rivers style “river-management” still be ongoing?

Along with many other NGOs we have long warned of the threats from destructive works to our nation’s rivers and to species like the Scaly-sided Merganser (see e.g.: ).

In late 2009, as the Four Rivers project was launched, almost all Korean environmental NGOs and hundreds of the nation’s leading experts warned of its potential environmental, economic and social costs. In early 2010, we published our bilingual report predicting likely impacts on waterbirds:

Many of the predictions that were made have already been proven correct.

An independent review (August 2012) of the Four Rivers project alleged numerous economic irregularities:

A recent audit (January 2013) alleged worsening water quality caused by the Four Rivers project and predicted further huge costs:

And published Ministry of Environment winter census count data reveal that numbers of waterbirds using many of the most-affected stretches of river have shown large declines. The same census also suggests a major national-level decline in many species of waterbird during the past five years. For example, the number of ducks recorded nationwide during the census fell from 1,229,670 in 2008 to only 779,692 in 2012.

During this same five-year period, the ROK has hosted the Ramsar Convention conference (in 2008) and the IUCN World Conservation Congress (in 2012). Preparations for yet another major international meeting in the ROK are even now underway (this one the Convention on Biological Diversity conference in 2014).

The evidence is already overwhelming that such destructive development is unsustainable – environmentally, economically and socially.  So the question remains: How can you help us and help decision-makers to conserve species like the Scaly-sided Merganser and their river habitats?  What do all of us need to do to help conserve our declining biodiversity?

For more on the history of the Four Rivers project, please see:

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