The Government of South Korea Should Recall the Spirit of the Ramsar Convention and Stop Destruction of Wetlands
One year has passed since the 10th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar COP10) was held in Changwon, South Korea from 28 October to 4 November 2008. The meeting was held successfully with the most participants in the history of the Ramsar convention. Thirty two resolutions were adopted including the Resolution X.3 ‘the Changwon Declaration on human well-being and wetlands’. However, we feel it is very regrettable that many of the resolutions and promises made at the Ramsar COP10 have not yet been implemented and wetlands of South Korea are faced with greater threats.
Mr. Lee Myung-bak, President of South Korea stated that "South Korea will keep increasing the number of Wetland Protection Areas and Ramsar Sites and it will be a model country of the convention" at his speech at the opening ceremony of the Ramsar COP10. Unfortunately, there have been no wetlands added to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance during the year since the Ramsar COP10, even though there are about 60 wetlands which have international conservation values in South Korea. Two wetlands were designated as Wetland Protection Areas on October 1st, but only one of them, the 1100 Highland Wetland in Jeju Island with an area of 0.126㎢ was actually added to protected wetlands in the country. The other had already been listed as a Ramsar Site before the Ramsar COP10.
The 'Changwon Declaration on human well-being and wetlands (Resolution X.3)', which was proposed by the government of South Korea and adopted at the Ramsar COP10 emphasized the conservation and wise use of wetlands, urged decision makers of the world to stop the loss and degradation of wetlands and to maintain their ecological character. But, right after the Ramsar COP10 is over, the government of South Korea proposed the so-called 4 Rivers Restoration Project which poses threats to the conservation of riverine wetlands and natural ecosystem along the rivers by building more than 20 dams on the rivers and dredging 570 million cubic meters of sediment from the rivers.
Resolution X.19 'Wetlands and river basin management: consolidated scientific and technical guidance' asked Contracting Parties to integrate wetland conservation and wise use into river basin management, and Resolution X.24 on 'Climate change and wetlands' asked Contracting Parties to make every effort to consider the maintenance of the ecological character of wetlands in national climate change mitigation and adaptation policies. However, the government of South Korea wants to drive the 4 Rivers Project to cope with the climate change, which threatens conservation of riverine wetlands by greatly affecting the maintenance of the ecological characters of the rivers. It is expected that around 130 riverine wetlands on the National Wetland Inventory compiled by the government of South Korea will be affected by the 4 Rivers Project if it is implemented.
Resolution X.22 'Promoting international cooperation for the conservation of waterbird flyways' noted that migratory shorebirds in the Yellow Sea area are under threat from the loss of tidal flats and pollution, and urged international cooperation and expansion of protected areas for the conservation of these habitats. However, the government of South Korea approved 11 coastal reclamation projects of 8.1㎢ including the reclamation of Songdo Tidal Flat (7.2㎢) in March this year, just 4 months after the Ramsar COP10. Also, the Saemangeum Reclamation Project, the largest tidal flat destroying project in the world, is going ahead while its initial purpose of creating of farmland, was abandoned.
Although the Tidal Flat of Jangbongdo is protected as a Wetland Protection Area and the Tidal Flat of Ganghwado and Breeding Ground of Black-faced Spoonbills is protected as a Natural Monument, both are under threat by the Incheon Bay Tidal Power Project and the Ganghwa Tidal Power Project, respectively. The tidal flat of Garorim Bay is the most well conserved tidal flats in South Korea and is one of the only two habitats of Spotted Seal Phoca largha in the country which is protected as Endangered Species Category Ⅱ designated by the Ministry of Environment of South Korea is also under threat by the proposed Garorim Bay Tidal Power Project.
The Nakdong River Estuary which is one of the most important sites for migratory waterbirds in Korea and is protected as a Natural Monument. It is under threat from a plan to halve its size of the Natural Monument area. It is also threatened by plans to build the Eomgung Bridge and the new international airport both of which will damage its ecological character as an important migratory bird habitat.
There is international concern about the loss and degradation of wetlands in South Korea. Resolution X.13 'The status of sites in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance' recommends that the government of South Korea advise the Ramsar Secretariat of any significant change in the ecological character of those Wetland Protection Areas and Ecosystem Landscape Conservation Areas that are wetlands. The plans to remove the Sin-gok Underwater Weir in the lower part of the Han River and to build a new one 14 kilometres downstream along with the Gyeongin Canal (Gyeongin Waterway) Project, the Han River Renaissance of Seoul City and the 6 Projects to link the Han River of Gyeonggi Province are threatening the conservation of the Han River Estuary Wetland Protection Area.
The marine area with soft corals off coast the Gangjeong Village in Jeju Island which is protected as a Natural Monument is very close to the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is under threat by a project to build a new naval base.
Though the governments of South Korea and Japan jointly proposed Resolution X.31 'Enhancing biodiversity in rice paddies as wetland systems' which encouraged the contracting parties to promote research on flora, fauna and ecological functions in rice paddies and on the cultures that have evolved within rice-farming communities that have maintained the ecological value of rice paddies as wetland systems, there has been no specific effort made by the government of South Korea to implement the resolution.
Though the Ramsar COP10 was held one year ago in South Korea, many important wetlands of South Korea are still not well protected, but rather face destruction and degradation due to various development projects of the government. Though the South Korean government adopted the so-called Low Carbon Green Growth Plan as the country's basic development strategy, it is destroying wetlands with various development projects in the name of Green Growth.
The government of S. Korea should recall the Spirit of the Ramsar Convention, "Conservation and Wise Use of Wetland", stop large-scale wetland destruction projects and implement President Lee's promise to be a model country of the convention.
27th October 2009
Preparation Committee for the Korea Wetland NGO Network
for more information please contact Mr. Park Chung-rok, Co-Representative of Wetlands and Birds Korea (WBK) at firstname.lastname@example.org or Mr. Ma Yong-un, Director of Korea Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM) at email@example.com
* The statement was drafted by KFEM/FoE Korea