I and the Bird

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Sad Story from Korea

I'm behind the ball, but just today I stumbled across a tragic story from South Korea, where a gigantic land-reclamation project has killed off one of the world's most important shorebird habitats to make way for...no one knows.

In late April workers plugged the last hole in the Saemangeum Seawall, cutting off a 155 square mile tidal flat from the sea. The Sawmangeum system was the single most important shorebird staging area on the Yellow Sea and lies smack in the middle of the East Asian Australasian Flyway. The flat was the most reliable source of food for several endangered species, including the spoon-billed sandpiper, Nordmann's greenshank and the Great Knot.

A story on the seawall from Birds Korea writes that:

"By 25 April, 2006, only four days after seawall closure, shellfish beds in the enclosed area started to die. By the end of May, most were dead, and water quality was already deteriorating rapidly. 90% of Saemangeum's vast tidal-flats are now expected to be lost by 2007, either dried out or permanently flooded. Water pollution is expected to worsen dramatically. The area had enormous local and national importance for fisheries, supporting the livelihoods of an estimated 25 000 people." (emphasis in the original)

One of the saddest parts of this story is that there isn't a plan or necessity for the reclaimed land. The project was thought up in the 1950s when Korea needed farmland to feed its growing population. Today, though, hunger isn't such an issue in Korea and there are a lot fewer farmers...not even enough to farm the new land. In addition, the soil exposed by creating the seawall is too salty for crops. Now Korea's government is planning on building an amusement park or 'the world's largest golf complex' to lure tourists.

It is assumed that the creation of the Saemangeum seawall will "probably lead to the extinction of some bird species." It will also affect North American shorebirds who summer in Alaska and migrate along the Pacific coast of Asia. This is just a heartbreaking situation.
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