SAVE Song Do
Members of the specialist group SAVE International, who have done wonderful work for the conservation of Black-faced Spoonbill Platelea minor in e.g. Taiwan, visited Incheon City in late May 2009. They toured the Song Do area with representatives of Green Korea United. Their public letter of concern about the Song Do reclamation, including their perception from overseas of how this reclamation is damaging to the nation's international image, is reproduced unedited here:

Spoonbill Action Voluntary Echo International (SAVE)

University of California, Berkeley
Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning
Berkeley, CA 94720
Coordinators: Sheila Dickie and Derek Schubert
phone: 510.849-0561 • email: •


June 22, 2009

On a recent visit to Korea, members of SAVE International were extremely alarmed by the widespread destruction of the Song Do Tidal Flat taking place in Incheon City.

Scientists around the world have concluded that these tidal flats are critical to the survival of multiple species. In the past 10 years it has become clear that these flats are among the most critical wetlands in the world, exceeding the criteria established by the Ramsar convention for several species. Although our research focuses on the Black-faced Spoonbill (jeo eo sae or Platalea minor), other scientists note that the Relict Gull and Chinese Egret are in dangerous declines due to previous reclamation here. The Saunders’s Gull, Black-tailed Godwit, and Nordmann’s Greenshank are among other threatened and/or endangered species dependent upon the Song Do area.

When tidal flat habitat is reclaimed, it pushes birds into a smaller territory, where overcrowding increases the likelihood of outbreaks of botulism or other diseases. Additional die-offs such as was experienced this year are likely to continue – this will reflect poorly on Korea and Incheon City. In most developed and civilized nations, Ramsar-qualifying wetlands are strictly honored.

We are shocked by the wetlands destruction the Korean Government continues to allow and sometimes even promotes in the name of environmentally-friendly development, the Incheon Song Do Tidal Flat being a primary example. We know that the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) has already destroyed most of these critical tidal flats, but our recent site survey suggests that approximately 1000 hectares of the Song Do Tidal Flat remain, at and around the mouth of Sorae Creek. We are aware that Black-faced Spoonbills are nesting nearby. We urge you to stop any further reclamation at this site and to preserve the entirety of the remaining Song Do Tidal Flat for critically-needed wildlife habitat.

We expect you to preserve the entirety of what remains of the Song Do Tidal Flat, not just a portion of it. The suggestion that part of this area can be filled for development and part of it saved for habitat is unacceptable, not only to the international groups monitoring your actions, but by your own criteria and public pledges to fill no more tidal flats for reclamation projects. This you have pledged stated policy of no further net loss of wetlands.

SAVE is an international organization composed of scientists and citizens dedicated to developing sustainable economies that support local cultures and habitat for endangered species, and to saving the Black-faced Spoonbill and other wild species and cultures from extinction. We have worked with fishermen and elected officials in the Asian Flyway for over a decade and have successfully introduced a new economy in Taiwan that melds habitat preservation, traditional fishing and farming, and high technology. We are prepared to work with you if you preserve this most vital tidal habitat. We would volunteer our scientists and planners to maximize the use of these tidal flats as both habitat and a quality-of-life amenity for Incheon City.

However, if you decide to proceed with tidal flat destruction, we are equally prepared to expose your plans internationally. We have grown weary of Korea’s dishonest use of environmental terminology to disguise environmental destruction. Your continued destruction of Ramsar-qualified tidal flats here and elsewhere, even as you pledge to the international community to preserve them, is but one example of this double-speak. Similar “green” pledges by your government try to camouflage river engineering and coastal destruction that are decades out-of-date and against the laws of other advanced societies. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, the filling of tidal flats stopped 30 years ago. In California, filling of wetlands requires mitigation to recreate wetland on a 2-to-1 basis; even then, some studies show that new wetlands might take many years to replicate what was lost. Your “mitigation” for the proposed Song Do Tidal Flat is a misnomer at best and more likely a case of intentional deception.

Korea’s record of wetland destruction is among the worst of all the developed nations in the world. Incheon City will not achieve its world-class ambitions based on such deceit. The U.S. universities you are recruiting for your IFEZ campus will likely have second thoughts about locating in Incheon when they know the complete story. But as stated above, we are prepared to work with you if you choose to stop destroying tidal flats and to preserve critical habitat for the Black-faced Spoonbill and other species. To do this will require careful planning around the detention ponds, the artificial island site, Sorae Creek, and the entire estuary.

Bird habitat is not a barrier for city development, but an opportunity to build a real green city and provide residents and visitors with the opportunity to enjoy the nature. We hope to be able to work with you on this effort. Please inform us in writing of your plans for the remaining Song Do Tidal Flats.

On behalf of SAVE International Executive Committee,


Derek Schubert

President, SAVE International