Birds Korea National Shorebird Survey 2008:
“The SSMP Supplementary Shorebird Survey”
Nial Moores, Birds Korea (Second Draft), June 2nd, 2008.

The (Saemangeum) reclamation project invites more migratory birds to the area” and “snipes and plovers (shorebirds) easily move their habitat to the Gomso Bay, Geum River estuary or other tidal flat (239,000ha) which are 5 ~ 20km away from Saemangeum.”

(Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Official Website, 2003; video at the Saemangeum Exhibition Hall, 2008).

The National Shorebird Survey: May 2008.

The following draft summary provides some of the context, method, and some selected results from the Birds Korea-initiated National Shorebird Survey (“the national survey”) conducted along much of the west and south coast of South Korea, between May 2nd and May 13th, 2008. The national survey was designed to supplement the Birds Korea-Australasian Wader Studies Group Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program (SSMP), a major survey initiative conducted during northward migration in April and May 2006, 2007 and 2008 (with further survey effort during southward migration in 2006 and 2007, and fuller survey planned tentatively again for April and May 2010). The SSMP has proven extremely successful in measuring with scientific rigour changes in shorebird numbers (and habitats) within Saemangeum and at the adjacent Gomso Bay and Geum Estuary (combined, “The SSMP Study Site”). The more modest national survey was funded by private donation and by a small grant from “The Korea NGO Promotion”. All data from the survey will be processed further, before formal publication. Data and results presented here at this time in this draft can be used, provided full citation and copyright is acknowledged, permission to reproduce is first sought from Birds Korea, and suitable caveats are provided.


Data generated during and then subsequent to pioneering research in 1988 (Long et al., 1988), led, by 2003, to the identification of 19 coastal wetland sites in South Korea that supported 1% or more of the Flyway population of at least one shorebird species, with eleven of these sites considered to support more than 10,000 shorebirds in a season (Yi, 2003). Based on shorebird surveys conducted between 1997 and 2003 by the National Institute of Environmental Research (NIER, within the national Ministry of Environment), South Korea as a whole was believed to support 12.7% of the East Asian-Australasian (EAA) Flyway’s migratory shorebirds on northward migration, and 8.7% of the EAA Flyway’s shorebirds on southward migration (Yi, 2004). The two most numerous shorebird species were Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris (248,345) and Dunlin Calidris alpina (213,218) respectively, clearly indicating the very great international importance of the nation’s inter-tidal wetlands (Yi, 2003).

The 1997-2003 NIER data also revealed that the vast majority of shorebirds in South Korea were concentrated at only a few key sites. The top eight of these shorebird sites were believed to support 535,000 shorebirds during northward migration, and 388,000 shorebirds during southward migration – with the next twelve most important sites combined supporting only a further 100,000 and 55,000 shorebirds on northward and southward migration respectively. This equates to the top eight sites (Dongjin Estuary, Mangyeung Estuary, Namyang Bay, Yubu Island, Yeongjong Island, Asan Bay, Ganghwa Island and Cheonsu Bay) supporting 84% and 87% of South Korea shorebirds on northward and southward migration, respectively (Yi, 2004).

Reclamation project after reclamation project, the landscape of Asan Bay, May 5 2008, Photo © Nial Moores

Of greatest importance were the Mangyeung and the Dongjin Estuaries, combined supporting 316,000 shorebirds on northward migration (almost half the total of the twenty most important sites), and 257,000 (or 58% of the total of the twenty most important sites) on southward migration (Yi, 2003, 2004).

Table 1: Shorebird Population Estimates

1%NM (2003)NM (2006)
Haematopus (ostralegus) osculans100309N/A
Pluvialis squatarola1,30020,36415,000
Charadrius alexandrinus1,0004,4543,000
Charadrius mongolus* 60017,55012,000
Limosa limosa1,60021,34130,000
Limosa lapponica* 3,30038,90635,000
Numenius phaeopus5506,9816,000
Numenius arquata3502,8773,000
Numenius madagascariensis3807,47010,000
Tringa nebularia1,0003,4014,000
Tringa guttifer888100
Xenus cinereus5005,16210,000
Heteroscelus brevipes400N/A8,000
Arenaria interpres1,0002,1271,200
Calidris tenuirostris3,800248,345150,000
Calidris canutus2,6006,1185,000
Calidris alba22037500
Calidris ruficollis3,20023,63910,000
Calidris acuminata1,6002,8453,000
Calidris alpina* 20,000213,218150,000
Eurynorhynchus pygmeus3023>50
Limicola falcinellus1,000464>1,000

Table 1 showing population estimates of those shorebird species known to be supported regularly by South Korean wetlands in internationally important concentrations. Column “1%” indicates the number estimated as 1% of population (Wetlands International, 2006), and an * denotes the 1% criterion based on the combined populations of subspecies present in Korea. Columns NM (2003) and NM (2006) are estimates of the numbers of these species considered to migrate through South Korea during northward migration, from Yi (2003) and Moores (2006). Note that the 2003 estimates are apparently based on the addition of peak counts from single sites, and that some sites considered as single ecological units by Moores (2006) are subdivided by Yi (2003), e.g. the Mangyeung and the Dongjin Estuaries (=Saemangeum) and Yubu Island and the Geum Estuary (=the Geum Estuary), resulting in some cases in more modest estimates given by Moores (2006).

The Mangyeung and Dongjin Estuaries are now known as Saemangeum, a 40,100 ha area of tidal-flat and sea-shallows presently undergoing reclamation (i.e. conversion from natural wetland to other land use). On the basis of data provided by the NIER and non-government sources, Saemangeum was confidently identified by Barter (2002) as the single most important known shorebird site in the whole of the Yellow Sea, itself a core shorebird region (supporting probably 40% of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway’s migratory shorebirds).

Completion of the 33-km long Saemangeum seawall in April 2006, and subsequent manipulation of the tides through sluice-gates has, however, now led to degradation of much of the shorebird habitat within Saemangeum (Moores et al., 2006; Rogers et al., 2006; Moores et al,. 2007; in prep). While Saemangeum supported 176,955 shorebirds during the early-Mid May SSMP count in 2006, it supported only 39,577 shorebirds by the same dates in 2008 (Table 2).

Saemangeum, May 16 2006, Photo © Ju Yong-Ki

Table 2: Changes in shorebird numbers at Saemangeum and within the SSMP Study Site: 2006-2008.

SSMP Study Site
SSMP Study Site
Haematopus ostralegus osculans81154228+147545+391
Pluvialis squatarola2,1795,2542,157-225,912+658
Charadrius alexandrinus6172363+302427+355
Charadrius mongolus5,9147,606677-5,2375,288-2,318
Limosa limosa6131,543* 2,755+2,1422,972* +1,429
Limosa lapponica5,4228,7602,800-2,62216,259+7,499
Numenius phaeopus1,0282,682471-5572,676-6
Numenius arquata22750-22107+32
Numenius madagascariensis6291,121138-4911,616+495
Tringa nebularia9122,414221-691824-1,590
Tringa guttifer14844-1060-24
Xenus cinereus3,8555,6331,623-2,2325539-94
Heteroscelus brevipes233302134-99407+105
Arenaria interpres7441,439255-489715-724
Calidris tenuirostris86,288116,126** 4,847-81,44121,593-94,533
Calidris canutus64742-6211-63
Calidris alba2806+4578+498
Calidris ruficollis5,1545,8733,565-1,5894727-1,146
Calidris acuminata6451,65920-625106-1,553
Calidris alpina62,50882,718** 18,885-43,62375,577-7,141
Eurynorhynchus pygmeus34353-3111-34
Limicola falcinellus338349244-94448+99
TOTAL including “Others”176,955244,34939,557-137,398147,088-97,261

Table 2 showing changes in shorebird numbers during northward migration recorded by the SSMP within Saemangeum and the SSMP Study Site (Saemangeum, Gomso Bay and the Geum Estuary combined) during the early-mid-May spring high tide series in 2006 (Rogers et al., 2006) and again in 2008 (SSMP unpublished, draft data).
The columns "+/-" indicate changes, either positive or negative, between maxima recorded in 2006 and 2008.
* Includes 2,694 feeding in rice-fields near to Saemangeum, in an area previously not included within the regularly monitored SSMP study site.
** 3,186 Calidris alpina and 2,078 C. tenuirostris were feeding outside of Saemangeum intertidal areas, in areas unsurveyed by the SSMP in 2006 and 2007, only roosting within Saemangeum: their omission, along with the Limosa limosa described above would further reduce totals of shorebirds “lost” to both Saemangeum and the SSMP Study Site.

Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris, Photo © Shim Kyu-Sik

The staggered process of reclamation within the vast Saemangeum area has impacted different shorebird species differently, dependent on their ecological requirements, and biological-cycles (both daily and annual). The mass die-off of shellfish beds starting in late April 2006, for example, provided extremely good, “one-off” foraging opportunities for many shorebird species, most especially Great Knot (Rogers et al., 2006). This enabled large numbers to stage successfully on northwards migration in 2006, and apparently also resulted in large numbers being present within Saemangeum and within the SSMP study site in 2007 in April, but not in May when expected to peak (Moores et al., 2007). For some species, the reduced tidal-range and reduced human activity to date has even temporarily increased habitat, including for nesting Eastern Oystercatcher Haematopus (ostralegus) osculans and Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus – responsible for genuine local increases in both species. Assessing changes in numbers of shorebirds within the SSMP study site is further complicated by tide-based movements of some shorebirds between the Geum Estuary and Saemangeum, noted both before and after sea-wall close on April 21st, 2006, and perhaps even between Saemangeum and Gomso Bay (in 2008). However, despite the complexities of measuring single-species responses to the reclamation, it is now apparent that the repeated benthic die-offs caused by significant fluctuations in water level and quality has meant that Saemangeum is presently unable to support large (pre-2007) concentrations of Great Knot. Moreover, all intertidal shorebird habitat remaining within Saemangeum that is presently still able to support significant concentrations of some shorebird species (including those that feed largely e.g. on tidal-flat worms, or those that breed on newly-formed dried land) will be lost within the next five years, if reclamation proceeds as planned. This will result in further very significant declines of shorebirds within Saemangeum. It is still unclear whether there will be available habitat or feeding opportunity within the much-smaller remaining intertidal areas of the Geum Estuary or Gomso Bay for species (and individuals) that are presently still staging in Saemangeum, but results from the SSMP suggest that at least some species will undergo significant declines over time within the SSMP study site as a whole: during northward migration 2007, only 51,540 shorebirds had been “lost” to the SSMP study site (Moores et al, 2007), while by May 2008 that number had more or less doubled, to c.100,000.

Saemangeum, June 18 2007, Photo © Ju Yong-Ki

Despite the argument presented by the then-Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (in 2003 and subsequently) that the Saemangeum reclamation area would invite migratory birds to the area, and that displaced shorebirds would simply “move their habitats” to Gomso Bay and the Geum Estuary, the SSMP has already identified:

  1. Very significant declines of shorebirds both within the Saemangeum area itself, from 176,955 shorebirds in Mid-May 2006 to only 39,557 in Mid-May 2008 (a decline of more than 137,000);

  2. A “loss” of more than 97,000 shorebirds from the SSMP Study Site (of Gomso Bay, Saemangeum and the Geum Estuary combined) during the same period (from 244,349 in mid-May 2006 to only 147,088 in Mid-may 2008, in prep.), including a decline of almost 95,000 Great Knot, two-thirds of the SSMP Study Site’s (and South Korea’s) Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus, and almost one-third of the SSMP Study Site’s Endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer.

Considering turnover (and the importance of Saemangeum to shorebirds in months July-April), it can also be suggested with confidence that the Saemangeum reclamation has already impacted a significantly larger number of shorebirds than present only in May.

While it is already apparent from the SSMP data that the majority (>97,000) of the minimum 137,000 staging shorebirds displaced so far by the Saemangeum reclamation (in the early May period alone) have not been able to relocate to the adjacent Gomso Bay and Geum Estuary, could they have moved to other sites along the coast?

Saemangeum, May 10 2008, Photo © Ju Yong-Ki

Aims and Method

The national survey in 2008 was designed to supplement the ongoing SSMP (2006-2008):

  1. By testing further the second part of the argument (above) made by the national Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry that shorebirds displaced by the Saemangeum reclamation might move to other tidal-flat areas within South Korea; and,

  2. By assessing the status of remaining internationally-important shorebird sites (most especially those most important sites identified by Yi, 2004).

Timing for the survey was selected as May 2nd to May 15th, as the period started with a week of high Spring Tides (essential for counting along the west coast, especially in the northwest, where tidal range is regularly in excess of 9 m), and also coincided both with an SSMP count cycle, and with the period of anticipated maximum shorebird abundance in South Korean inter-tidal areas based on prior survey effort. The 2006 SSMP counts for example recorded a mid-May peak of 176,955 shorebirds within Saemangeum, while a totalling-up of maximum counts for all species there throughout April and May 2006 produced a total of 198,031, a difference of less than 15% for the same area (Rogers et al., 2006). Counting throughout the national survey was conducted by teams of experienced shorebird specialists (including counters from Birds Korea, local areas, the AWSG, the Taiwan Wader Studies Group, the Miranda Naturalist’s Trust [New Zealand] and the Global Flyway Network [based in Australia]), using tripod-mounted telescopes, counting at high-tide roost sites, and in some areas, also on falling or rising tides. Boat-based surveys were also conducted within the Saemangeum reclamation area and in the Nakdong Estuary (the latter on May 13th). After some reconnaissance counts on May 2nd, simultaneous counts were conducted by four teams of counters on May 3rd (Yeongjong Island and Song Do) and 4th (Ganghwa Island and Teibu Do); by three teams on May 5th (Namyang Bay and Asan Bay, and rice-fields at Honwon Ri and between Namyang and Asan Bays); two teams on May 6th (Seosan rice-fields and Cheonsu Bay); as part of the SSMP on May 7th and 8th (within Saemangeum and the Geum Estuary); by one team on May 9th (Baeksu); two teams on May 10th ( Hampyeong Bay, Muan, Aphae Island); three teams on May 11th (Mokpo Namhang Urban Wetland); and two teams on May 12th (Haenam Hwangsan and Suncheon Bay) and May 13th (Nakdong Estuary), when the survey circuit (away from the SSMP study site) was completed. The high level of experience within the counting teams, the favourable tides and weather, and the knowledge of the sites from previous survey work, produced high confidence in the counts in all areas, with the exception of Muan, an area suggested by previous shorebird survey work to hold more shorebirds during southward migration than northward migration (with for example a peak of 4.288 shorebirds recorded in late September 2008, compared to only 2,180 in early May 1998: Moores, 1999).

Miyeonji Bridge Construction, though the Ulseuk Island Restoration Area and apparently the Nakdong
Wetland Conservation Area., May 13 2008, Photo © Nial Moores

In total, the national survey covered (at least) fourteen internationally important wetlands for shorebirds (in accordance with Ramsar Convention criteria), as well as the nationally-important Mokpo Namhang wetland, and additional rice-field areas identified as internationally important for shorebirds (most especially Black-tailed Godwit) found during prior survey effort (e.g. Honwon Ri and Seosan reclaimed land). In addition, the survey dovetailed with the third (and fourth) count cycles of the 2008 Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program (SSMP), which covered the SSMP Study Site. In this way, the national survey and the SSMP combined covered all eleven of the most important shorebird sites nationwide that were identified by the NIER/Ministry of Environment between 1997 and 2003 (Yi, 2003), and all of the thirteen most important shorebird sites nationwide, as listed in Table 1 of Moores (1999). Based on previous research that has demonstrated that the vast majority of South Korea’s shorebirds are concentrated at only a few sites (e.g. Yi, 2004), it can be very safely assumed that the national survey and the SSMP together recorded the vast majority of shorebirds present in South Korean intertidal wetlands during early-Mid May 2008, the period of anticipated maximum abundance.


In total, the national survey recorded 142,713 shorebirds (Table 3) in inter-tidal and immediately-adjacent habitats (excluding the SSMP Study Site), and an additional 3480 shorebirds in large tracts of wet rice-field near Namyang Bay and on reclaimed land next to “Seosan Lake A”. These latter two rice-field areas, while surveyed intensively by car-based teams covering several thousand hectares (with multiple GPS points recorded), supported a further 2976 and 504 shorebirds respectively, with most numerous near Namyang Bay being Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa (1799) and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata (444), and at Seosan (on May 6th), Black-tailed Godwit (504). Despite much greater survey effort by this survey than e.g. in surveys conducted in April and May 1998 (Moores, 1999), rather fewer shorebirds were found in rice-fields in 2008 than in 1998. For example, the area of rice-field at Honwon Ri (near Namyang Bay) which supported 1,701 Black-tailed Godwit when counted on May 8th 1998 (Moores, 1999) supported no godwits at all on May 5th, 2008.

While all shorebirds were recorded during the national survey, the focus was on shorebird species that have been recorded regularly in South Korea in internationally important concentrations (i.e. in concentrations of 1% or more of estimated population, as presented in Wetlands International, 2006). Those species that are believed not to have occurred in internationally important concentrations regularly in South Korea are therefore contained within “Other” in Table Two and Table Three in this online draft summary.

Table 3: Shorebirds Recorded During the National Survey, divided by sub-region.

NWW/SWSouth CoastTotal
Haematopus (ostralegus) osculans65151999
Pluvialis squatarola3,8798404035,122
Charadrius alexandrinus498479212
Charadrius mongolus1,940753272,720
Limosa limosa921093
Limosa lapponica8,2812,48375811,522
Numenius phaeopus2,1569765403,672
Numenius arquata122027149
Numenius madagascariensis2,14032352,207
Tringa nebularia9272517731,951
Tringa guttifer480351
Xenus cinereus1,6301,3387883,756
Heteroscelus brevipes4004274231,250
Arenaria interpres1305348672
Calidris tenuirostris25,0161,355926,380
Calidris canutus12220124
Calidris alba009393
Calidris ruficollis1,2181,3693382,925
Calidris acuminata499967
Calidris alpina60,16213,3965,84879,406
Eurynorhynchus pygmeus0000
Limicola falcinellus5117

Table 3 showing combined total numbers of shorebirds recorded by the national survey (excluding the SSMP Study Site and additional rice-field survey effort near Namyang Bay and within rice-fields of the Seosan reclamation area, as detailed above). NW denotes the North-western sites of Ganghwa Island, Yeongjong Island (North and South), Song Do Tidal-flat, Teibu Do, Namyang Bay (North and South, but excluding inside the reclamation area) and Asan Bay. W/SW denotes the Western/South-western sites of Cheonsu Bay, Baeksu Tidal-flat, Hampyeong Bay (excl. Baeksu), Muan (Meian area), Aphae Island and Mokpo Namhang Urban Wetlands. South Coast denotes the south coast sites of Haenam Hwangsan, Suncheon Bay (including far west and far southeast of bay) and the Nakdong Estuary. Note especially the very small number of Great Knot recorded away from the northwest sites (and the SSMP Study Site).


The national survey and the SSMP combined recorded a total of 293,281 shorebirds in early-Mid May 2008 (the period of anticipated maximum abundance for most shorebird species during northward migration, including Great Knot and Dunlin), with almost half of these within the SSMP study site: this is less than half of the 635,000 shorebirds estimated to be in South Korea during northwards migration between 1997 and 2003 (Yi, 2004).

Despite covering all of the most important known shorebird sites in South Korea at the time of peak abundance, the national survey failed to locate the very large number of Great Knot (minimum 81,441) that have been “lost” so far to the SSMP study site between 2006 and 2008.

The national survey also failed to identify any concentrations of species that had apparently relocated from Saemangeum post-2006. If shorebird numbers had remained stable in recent years (unaffected by reclamation or degradation) and birds from reclaimed sites including Saemangeum had relocated to remaining sites, proportionately large increases in the same species could be expected at such sites. However, while ten species have already shown major declines within the SSMP Study Site, only three of these (Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia, Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres and Dunlin) showed significant increases at internationally important shorebird sites outside of the SSMP Study Site between e.g. years 1998 and 2008 (Table 4), and even in these species, their increases did not appear to match the level of decrease recorded (e.g. a decrease of 7,141 Dunlin within the SSMP study site and an increase of 11,887 Dunlin at the eleven other sites alone). Moreover, species such as Eastern Oystercatcher, Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola and Bar-tailed Godwit increased both within the SSMP Study site and outside of it, while others, including Mongolian Plover Charadrius mongolus, Great Knot, Red Knot Calidris canutus, Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper decreased both within the SSMP study site and also at these other sites between years outside of it.

Table 4: Changes in shorebird counts at eleven internationally important shorebirds sites between 1998 and 2008.

1998 (April 29-May 11)2008 (May 3-May 13)
+ / –
Haematopus (ostralegus) osculans545+40
Pluvialis squatarola3,2933,978+685
Charadrius alexandrinus302111-191
Charadrius mongolus2,7802,183-597
Limosa limosa22,6562,055-20,601
Limosa lapponica7,8559,747+1,892
Numenius phaeopus1,9832,900+917
Numenius arquata11146+135
Numenius madagascariensis1,3652,032+667
Tringa nebularia6741,476+802
Tringa guttifer940+31
Xenus cinereus2,9153,571+656
Heteroscelus brevipes155829+674
Arenaria interpres161542+381
Calidris tenuirostris33,88118,130-15,751
Calidris canutus427122-305
Calidris alba91113+22
Calidris ruficollis2,6091,660-949
Calidris acuminata584519-65
Calidris alpina49,53761,424+11,887
Eurynorhynchus pygmeus00+/-0
Limicola falcinellus22+/-0

Table 4 showing combined totals of shorebird species (recorded “regularly” in South Korea in internationally important concentrations), at Yeong Jong Island, Ganghwa Island, Namyang Bay, Asan Bay, Cheonsu Bay, Hampyeong Bay, Aphae Island, Meian Muan, Haenam Hwangsan, Suncheon Bay and the Nakdong Estuary, between April 29th and May 11th 1998 (Moores, 1999) and by this survey (May 3rd to May 13th, 2008).

Inside the Namyang Bay Reclamation Area (seawall completed in 2006), January 2008, Photo © Nial Moores

While survey effort and experience (as well as infrastructure and site-access) were significantly better in 2008 than in 1998, comparison reveals a combined decline in total shorebird numbers of 19,670 at these eleven internationally important sites (Table 4). Moreover, only the Geum Estuary was considered to support more shorebirds in 2008, than estimated by Yi (perhaps due to undercounting in earlier survey effort, or perhaps due to the Geum Estuary presently supporting large numbers of shorebirds displaced by the Saemangeum reclamation). That numbers at the other sites were clearly lower in most cases than the estimates provided by Yi (2004) also clearly contradicts the argument that these sites are now supporting very large numbers of shorebirds displaced by the Saemangeum and other reclamation projects, in addition to the shorebirds that they formerly supported.

Table 5: Fourteen Most Important Inter-tidal Shorebird Sites, early-mid May 2008

2008Estimate (Yi, 2004)
Geum Estuary88,70566,700
Namyang Bay33,39974,000
Yeongjeong Is.28,13346,000
Song Do27,130N/A
Asan Bay9,57045,000
Aphae Island8,830N/A
Ganghwa Is.6,64429,700
Hampyeong Bay6,300N/A
Suncheon Bay6,2019,300
Cheonsu Bay5,089N/A
Nakdong Estuary2,525N/A

Table 5 showing the fourteen most important inter-tidal shorebird sites in South Korea during the national survey and simultaneous SSMP counts, and the estimate of the numbers of shorebirds supported during northward migration by the same sites (Yi, 2004).

Moreover, comparison of specific counts (Table 6) at four of the most important sites after Saemangeum listed by Yi (2003) also show a significant decline, with 110,576 shorebirds combined at Ganghwa and Yeongjong Islands and Namyang and Asan Bays in early-Mid May 1988 (Long et al., 1988); 90,442 in early-mid May 1998 (Moores, 1999); and only 77,611 in 2008 (this survey).

Table 6: Comparison of shorebird counts at four main northwestern sites, in May 1988, 1998 and 2008

Haematopus (ostralegus) osculans0014
Pluvialis squatarola2,6041,7862,880
Charadrius alexandrinus734113
Charadrius mongolus3,4493891,408
Limosa limosa15,17019,92282
Limosa lapponica9,9803,4426,734
Numenius phaeopus1,0155831,482
Numenius arquata173119
Numenius madagascariensis8851,4051,965
Tringa nebularia790131455
Tringa guttifer105637
Xenus cinereus8971,8041,545
Heteroscelus brevipes265227
Arenaria interpres17152114
Calidris tenuirostris18,75534,84616,777
Calidris canutus491374120
Calidris alba000
Calidris ruficollis2,86915299
Calidris acuminata3550228
Calidris alpina52,34425,17943,512
Eurynorhynchus pygmeus000
Limicola falcinellus000

Table 6 showing changes in numbers of shorebird species (recorded “regularly” in South Korea in internationally important concentrations), recorded at Yeong Jong Island, Ganghwa Island, Namyang Bay, Asan Bay in early-Mid May 1988 (Long et al., 1988), 1998 (Moores, 1999) and by this survey.

While count effort was very much greater in 2008 than in 1998 (when the count at Namyang Bay was considered incomplete for example (greatly reducing the totals given in the 1998 column in Table 5), and conducted in excellent conditions, the numbers of shorebirds recorded in 2008 was significantly reduced overall, largely due to the massive declines of Black-tailed Godwit and Great Knot.

Further supporting evidence, against the relocation of shorebirds from Saemangeum and the SSMP study site to other areas along the coast, will also likely be found through full analysis of records of leg-flagged and colour-banded birds. Although leg-flag and colour-band analysis of data gathered by the SSMP and by others is not yet complete, intense search effort for leg-flags conducted by two specialists from the Global Flyway Network between May 3rd and May 21st 2008 (as part of the SSMP, the national survey and independently at several sites nationwide), recorded over 400 leg-flag and colour-band re-sightings, including c. 320 within the SSMP study site, and a further 80 at eight sites outside of it. In total, twelve Korean-flagged shorebirds were recorded by this specific research effort, all of which would have been banded within the SSMP study site (with e.g. most NIER banding effort pre-2005 at Okgu, within Saemangeum). Although at least a fifth of these 400 or so leg-flag observations were made outside of the SSMP Study site, all twelve Korean-flagged birds (five Dunlin, four Bar-tailed Godwit, two Grey Plover and one Mongolian Plover) were re-located within the SSMP study site: none were found outside of it (Chris Hassell in lit., May 2008).

In response to these significant declines in many shorebird species (believed due in the main to large-scale reclamation works) and in order to fulfil obligations under national legislation, under the Republic of Korea-Migratory Bird Agreement (2006), and under international conventions (most especially the Ramsar Convention, to be hosted in South Korea between October 28th and November 4th, 2008) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (to be held in Japan, in 2010):

  1. Shorebird habitat within the Saemangeum reclamation area needs to be restored through greatly increasing tidal-exchange within the system;

  2. Major reclamation projects at sites including Song Do, the Geum Estuary and the Nakdong Estuary need to be publicly and permanently cancelled;

  3. Areas of Asan Bay need to be restored (while seawalls remain permeable);

  4. Model areas, vital to raising public awareness, including Mokpo Namhang Urban Weland, need to be conserved and enhanced; and

  5. All remaining internationally important areas for shorebirds need to be designated as Ramsar sites, and managed appropriately, with the support of local communities and adequate national government funding.

Song Do, Reclamation of the tidal-flats: new Song Do to Yeong Jong bridge in the background,
May 3 2008, Photo © Nial Moores


The data presented here (gathered by the SSMP, by the national count, and by leg-flag search), contradict the argument that the majority of shorebirds displaced by the Saemangeum reclamation have been able to relocate either to Gomso Bay and the Geum Estuary, or to other tidal-flat sites within South Korea. Rather, the evidence very strongly indicates that shorebird populations are in overall decline in South Korea, coincident with the degradation or loss of internationally important shorebird habitat nationwide, especially the intertidal habitat within Saemangeum. While the national survey (with its greatly increased survey effort when compared to 1998) found increased numbers of some shorebird species at some sites, and confirmed the international importance of the Song Do/Sorae tidal-flat (an area largely inaccessible in previous years), it also recorded very significant declines in especially two species: Great Knot and Black-tailed Godwit. The Great Knot has already suffered massive declines at Saemangeum, formerly the most important staging site in the world for the species, both on northward and southward migration, and within the SSMP study site as a whole; the species has also now largely lost the formerly extremely important areas of Namyang Bay (largely reclaimed, with seawall completion in 2006) and Asan Bay (main feeding and roost site apparently reclaimed post-2005); while Song Do (in Incheon City) is not only the next most-important site remaining for the species nationwide (outside of the SSMP Study site), it is also threatened with imminent reclamation. It is confidently anticipated, therefore, that the MYSMA (Monitoring of Yellow Sea Migrants in Australia) program which started in 2004 (see Gosbell and Clemens, 2006) will begin to detect declines in the boreal-winter population of Great Knot in Australia, coincident with the declines caused primarily by the Saemangeum reclamation and other habitat loss in Korea. The causes of the decline in the Black-tailed Godwit in South Korea are less apparent (and the trends in non-breeding areas, harder to determine), though the area in Asan Bay which supported a single flock of 18,282 in May 1998 (Moores, 1999), has now been reclaimed, no doubt contributing significantly to the species’ decline. Clearly, much greater effort needs to be expended at both the local and the national level if existing shorebird conservation obligations are to be met to any degree, allowing further declines in shorebird populations to be prevented.


Both the SSMP and the national count have only been made possible by the enormous generosity of time, energy and good spirit shown by so many people. While all will be named in future publication (!), especial thanks at this time to fellow national count-surveyors Adrian Riegen (Miranda Naturalists’ Trust), Adrian Boyle and Chris Hassel (Global Flyway Network), Danny Rogers (AWSG), Chiang Chung-Yu, Ko Jie-Chen and Jerome Ko (Taiwan Wader Studies Group), Jesse Conklin, Fred van Gessel, Inka Veltheim, Nigel Millius, Wendy Hare, Bruce Postill, Robin Newlin, Choi Jong-In, Andreas Kim, Kim Seok-Yee, and Lee Kyung Gyu; to Ed Keeble of Birds Korea and “The Korean NGO Promotion” who funded the national survey; to Newcastle University, Australia, and the AWSG for their essential support; and to all colleagues and members of Birds Korea for enabling and supporting our conservation work.


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