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Effects of the Saemangeum Reclamation Project on migratory shorebird staging in the Saemangeum and Geum Estuaries, South Korea



The Saemangeum tidal flat, an important staging site for migratory shorebirds that travel the East Asian-Australasian (EAA) Flyway, was isolated from the eastern Yellow Sea in 2006 as part of a large-scale reclamation project. To gain a better understanding of the impacts that this reclamation has had on the long-distance migratory shorebirds that use the EAA Flyway, we examined the number of shorebirds visiting Saemangeum and three adjacent sites in the Geum Estuary (Yubu Island, the Janghang coastline, and the Geum River Channel) during the spring and fall prior to, and after, completion of the reclamation (2004–2013). A total of 48 shorebird species, including one Critically Endangered, three Endangered, and nine Near Threatened species, were observed over this period. Peak numbers of shorebirds recorded at sites in Saemangeum and the Geum Estuary following completion of the project were 74% below those recorded in 2004 and 2005, the years prior to reclamation activity. In Saemangeum, shorebird abundance declined by approximately 95% and 97.3% during the northward and southward migrations, respectively, as a result of reclamation. Although shorebird populations in the Geum Estuary increased by 5% and 20% during the northwards and southward migrations, respectively, these increases failed to offset the reduction in shorebird abundance in Saemangeum; overall, shorebird abundance at Saemangeum and the three adjacent sites in the Geum Estuary markedly declined over the reclamation period. Given the more favourable conditions of adjacent areas, sites in Saemangeum and the Geum Estuary no longer provide the habitat conditions necessary for long-distance migratory shorebirds. In order to improve habitat for staging migratory birds, we suggest that measures such as the conversion of an abandoned salt farm for use as roosting sites, the construction of artificial barriers to prevent human disturbance, and re-opening of the river-banks to facilitate water flow be implemented.


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