Classmates at Prior Park College in Bath, UK have set up an environmental activism group they've called "EcoPrior" - and their first project: supporting the work of Birds Korea and KFEM to stop the reclamation of Saemangeum.
Formed by Tobias Nowlan (left) in September 2003, the group of 15 and 16 year-old students hold regular meetings at their school and have been building a steadily growing membership. Tobias emailed Birds Korea's Charlie Moores to ask how they could become involved in the campaign, and whether EcoPrior could help by collecting signatures for the online Birds Korea/KFEM petition.
The response was immediate and enthusiastic: of course! A copy of the petition letter to Dr. Yoon Young-Kwan, Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and signature collection sheets were sent out to Tobias. In a few short weeks EcoPrior contacted Birds Korea again to ask if we could come and collect the signatures from them...
Expecting - at best - a few hundred signatures, it turned out that these remarkably enthusiastic students had managed to collect a staggering 4000 signatures - by doggedly and relentlessly talking to relatives, friends, friends of friends - anyone who would listen in fact - and through organising a stall at the market in their home-town.
The group consists of (from L to R): Matthew Osment, Michael Evans, Jack King,Tobias Nowlan, Cassian Mackean (sitting), Duncan Williams, Oliver Gilmour.
At an hour-long meeting with Charlie Moores on October 22nd EcoPrior proudly handed over the results of their hard work and discussed in more detail what the Saemangeum reclamation meant to the region, to the Korean government's overseas image, and to the survival of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. The inevitable question was soon raised: "What can we do next?"
The answer is "Students Against Saemangeum" - a network that the EcoPrior group would like Birds Korea to help them set up and co-ordinate.
"Students Against Saemangeum" would involve students in the UK and overseas, offer support and information, collect signatures for the Birds Korea/KFEM petition, and focus on getting the message out to the media that students everywhere support the Korean people in getting the catastrophic Saemangeum reclamation stopped - for good.
An ambitious concept? It is indeed, but for a group of committed individuals like EcoPrior and the support of the Birds Korea network, who knows what can be achieved?
Are you a student (or a teacher) and would like to know more? We're a planning a major event for February 2004 and would appreciate your involvement. Please e-mail Birds Korea for details...
The last word goes to Tobias Nowlan, and his thoughts on the Saemangeum Reclamation project:
"Many people now know that Saemangeum in South Korea keeps the Spoon-billed Sandpiper on the planet, and that the site holds many rare and beautiful birds.
With this in mind, simply paving over the heart of Korea's birdlife is reckless, inconsiderate, selfish and foolish. I can not see how someone can have the spirit, mind and determination to even consider destroying such an area.
Birds, in my view, don't get much more beautiful, graceful, extraordinary and unique than those found at Saemangeum. The Black-faced Spoonbill and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper are no exceptions to this description. I for one do not want to know that they disappeared in my lifetime.
As human beings we have a responsibility to protect and look after the incredible diversity of life on this planet. From one human being to another we should be utterly ashamed of our fellow man, daring to create such a crime against nature.
I don't want to lose the Spoon-billed Sandpiper; I'm quite frankly disgusted with anyone supporting this reclamation. The fact that local fishermen will be freely and instantly put out of business is immoral too, and it worries and disturbs me.
The public of every country on earth must know of the possible atrocities to come.
They must understand that Saemangeum is not a gigantic lump of empty, desolate and lifeless mud but is one of the most life-rich, life supporting sites in the world.
If Saemangeum goes down, so do some fantastic birds. Everyone, everywhere, must know that the farmland created by the reclamation (which will replace the tidal flats, Korea's most threatened habitat) will be almost absolutely useless to birds.
We must, and we will, stop the Saemangeum reclamation - for the birds, for the South Korean people, and for the planet."
Tobias Nowlan, October 2003.