Saemangeum destruction given go-ahead
In a massive blow for conservation and wildlife, the Seoul High Court has decided that the South Korean Government can resume the Saemangeum wetland reclamation, which according to the Korean media is "designed to transform large tidal flats off the country’s southwestern coast into farmlands and a freshwater reservoir". (http://times.hankooki.com/)
The 40,000ha Saemangeum project on South Korea's west coast has generated enormous controversy as the area is one of the most important wetland sites for migrating waterbirds in Asia, with around 400,000 waterbirds annually passing through the wetlands or using them as a staging area.
The wetlands also support the highest fish diversity in Korea, and are a vitally important spawning ground. The livelihoods of 25,000 Korean fishermen depend on them.
"The Saemangeum project will have one of the biggest environmental impacts of any construction project in Asia over the coming decade." —Richard Grimmett, BirdLife Asia
Richard Grimmett, Head of BirdLife International's Asia Division said: "The Saemangeum project will have one of the biggest environmental impacts of any construction project in Asia over the coming decade. It will mean the loss of tidal mudflats and a feeding area for vast numbers of shorebirds on their East Asia-Australasian migration, and will impact fisheries and livelihoods in the Yellow Sea."
The project to reclaim Saemangeum for rice growing began in 1991. It met with local and international opposition that resulted in a one-year suspension in 2001, before again being suspended in 2003. However by that time around 90% of the sea wall had already been completed. The Korean Government's own expert panel advised that the reclaimed land would be of too poor quality for agricultural use. Historical precedents reinforced their doubts - the Shihwa reclamation, completed in 1994, cannot be used for agriculture because of water pollution.
South Korea is a signatory to the Ramsar Covention on Wetlands and the Convention on Biological Diversity and has been chosen as the next venue of the Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention in 2008. Ramsar's mission statement reads: "The Convention's mission is the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world."
Ironically by the time the conference takes place, the Korean Government may have overseen the destruction of one of the world's great wetlands. Hope still remains however, as campaigners are seeking an injunction to bar the resumption of work and bring the case to the Supreme Court.