South Korea and Ramsar: Not Yet Time To Celebrate
Nial Moores, November 9, 2005
With additional comments on November 16th.


With historical opportunities presented by the the next Ramsar Conference - to be held here in South Korea in 2008 - a note looking at South Korea and its Ramsar record: Saemangeum reclamation, only 3 Ramsar sites designated, and even one of those is in serious trouble...

For conservationists in or involved with South Korea, hugely important news. On the final day of the 9th Ramsar Conference of the Parties, it was agreed that South Korea, and most particularly Gyeongsangnam Province (the provincial administering authority for the highly threatened Upo Ramsar site), will host the next Ramsar Conference, in 2008.

South Korea has therefore now entered an extremely critical period for conservation of its wetlands and waterbirds.

To consider the challenges ahead, it is first necessary to look at what has been achieved already: South Korea's “Ramsar record.”

Between November 8-15th, the 9th Conference of the Parties (COP 9) to the Ramsar Convention was held in Uganda.

Official documents prepared for the Conference are easily accessible at the Ramsar Convention's excellent website, at: Of special importance to those interested in the Republic of Korea (and its Ramsar record) is the National Report, found at

While this National Report presents a picture of constant progress, spearheaded as it is by the Ministry of Environment with significant involvement from a focal point in the Korean Federation for Environment Movement (at:, the report reveals that no National Wetlands Committee has as yet been established (still in the planning stages, as it was in 1999 at the time of COP 7); that the Republic has only designated one new Ramsar site since the last COP 3 years ago, indeed only one since 1997 (and this a second upland peat marsh – totaling only 9 ha in area!); and that the Upo Ramsar site has not been listed on the Montreux record, even though it is known by both the government and the Ramsar Bureau to be suffering significant ecological change.

Indeed, South Korea has still only designated three wetlands of international importance to the Ramsar List, totaling a paltry 969 ha - compare this record to the UK's, with 163 Ramsar sites, covering 880, 221 ha! (Go to:

South Korea therefore still has one of the very worst Ramsar Site records of any contracting party, a failure that cannot be explained away in terms of economic power (South Korea is said to have the world's 11th largest economy), land area or geography (many nations are smaller, and even mountain-locked Switzerland has 11 Ramsar sites totaling 8676 ha!), or because of lack of potential sites of importance. Surveys conducted in 1998/1999 revealed that at least 65 wetlands in South Korea were of international importance to waterbirds alone (with surely more sites of value to other forms of biodiversity, including fisheries, as well as international importance for ecological representative-ness, landscape and culture).

At present, only one of these internationally important waterbird sites has been designated (Upo - and that faces significant problems from dyke construction, road building and increased disturbance due to the development of an “eco-park”: go to Upo), while numerous others key sites continue to be degraded, reclaimed or threatened by changes to their hinterlands. This list includes several sites well known to Birds Korea members: Song Do, Yeongjong, Asan and Namyang Bays, Saemangeum (the world's largest ongoing reclamation project), the Geum River estuary etc.

Respectfully, we therefore support the Ramsar Bureau's request contained in a draft document: “that the government of the Republic of Korea advise the Secretary General of the current situation concerning the sea-wall construction and reclamation of the Saemangeum coastal wetlands, and the impact of the construction works undertaken to date on the internationally important migratory waterbird populations dependent upon these wetlands” (COP, DR 16, at:

Moreover, we again ask for the Saemangeum reclamation project to be cancelled.

We also call for full compliance by the government of South Korea to the resolutions and recommendations of both the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

We again highlight Resolution COP7 21 (Enhancing the Wise Use and Conservation of intertidal wetlands”:, a resolution officially proposed by the Republic of Korea at COP 7, and urge the much fuller designation of sites of international importance, especially tidal-flat and estuarine sites, to the Ramsar list.

It is clear that South Korea's failure to involve deeply in the Ramsar Convention up to now has prevented effective national planning for sustainability. It is also clear that responsibility for this failure lies not with government alone: it needs to be shared fully by all sectors of Korean society. For Ramsar or any international Convention to be effective in South Korea, relevant NGOs, media and local communities must provide much greater support to those Ministries engaged in wetland and biodiversity conservation initiatives; and all of us must work harder and consistently to educate society about the benefits of genuine international cooperation, compliance and conservation.

To the Future!

Nial Moores, November 16, 2005.