Thursday, 22 January 2004

The Saemangeum reclamation

Just before I left for Ecuador, an old birdwatching colleague contacted me about a potential environmental disaster in South Korea. Unfortunately there is probably very little that the World Land Trust can do to help, much as we might like to. So, in order to help their cause, as a first step, I am putting most of their letter in this newsblog. Readers can decide for themselves what action they can take. I also hope other search engines, journalists etc. will pick up the story and run with it.

"In brief, the Saemangeum reclamation is the name given to the world's largest ongoing coastal reclamation project, which aims to convert 40 100 ha of shallows and tidal-flats (an area akin to two-thirds of the Wash in the UK), into rice-field and land for industry. At present the system supports approximately 27 species of waterbird in internationally important concentrations -- many of which are globally threatened -- as well, it is said, as the economic needs of an estimated 25 000 people -- all of whom depend, directly or indirectly, on the system's rich fisheries. (For further background information:

The original plan to reclaim the whole area was first devised by a former military government in the 1980s, and construction on the 33 km long seawall started back in 1991. In the intervening years, environmental awareness has grown rapidly in South Korea - and so has opposition to the project. Smaller scale projects, started at the same time, are already suffering significant water quality problems, and their original purpose (that of agriculture -- the only legal end-use for public waters reclaimed in South Korea) has not been realized as a result. Even the South Korean government has recognised that the project will not produce the economic benefits that it has been promising, but they still stubbornly remain intent on completing the sea wall (now already between 80% and 90% completed) and pushing ahead with the project. This despite a court ruling in July 2003, by a national court, that the reclamation project MUST be suspended -- until proof can be provided that water quality issues can be properly resolved (For further information on the court ruling:

Since July, the court hearings and discussions have proceeded, we presume, though little information has been released in the last two months, as proponents of the project and government continue to hope that with the help of time the whole reclamation issue will simply fade into the background and be forgotten -- opening a way for a full resumption of the project.

To help counter this we are organizing an international event to celebrate the Ramsar Convention's World Wetlands Day --a ritual walk, called a 'sambolibae' in Korean, followed by the reading of a declaration requesting governments and people around the world to do more to conserve all threatened wetlands, including, of course, the Saemangeum estuarine system.

The walk, described in detail on our website (please refer to:, involves 3 steps followed by a deep bow (where the walker kneels down and touches the ground with their forehead) and has come to symbolize the environmental movement's struggle in South Korea against this project. Last year, a group of spiritual and environmental leaders walked in this way for several weeks, all the way from the reclamation site to the capital Seoul -- mobilizing people's hearts and opinion.

Although WBKEnglish are only a very small network, we have invited one of South Korea's leading spiritual leaders, the Reverend Sugyeong (who led the sambolibae for Saemangeum to Seoul), and a wetlands activist from South Korea, so they can lead a 30-minute sambolibae in the UK - on Sunday, February 1st -- most likely at Snettisham, on the shores of the Wash. This walk will be followed by the reading of a declaration requesting the proper conservation of the Wash and the permanent suspension of the Saemangeum reclamation.

The same day, similar events will be held at least in Switzerland, by the Birdlife partner there (in cooperation we are told with some staff of the Ramsar Bureau itself); in Italy, in Thailand, perhaps in Germany, and of course in South Korea. The events aim to strengthen international networks and to win media coverage for the Saemangeum issue sending a very strong and clear signal to the South Korean government that the fight for this wetland, the people and the birds it supports, will continue --; ever stronger, and ever louder.

At this stage, as schedules and itineraries become increasingly fixed, we are looking at all means to raise funds and even more importantly to get the fullest possible media coverage for the Reverend Sugyeong and activist Kim Su-Kyung's visit to the UK, and for the the sambolibae event on February 1st. Would there be any way in which you and your organisation might be able to assist us in these aims?

Apologies for writing cold, and very many thanks in advance for all and everything that you might be able to do to help.


Nial Moores,, South Korea

Kim Su-Kyung,, South Korea

Charlie Moores,, UK."

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