Korean shorebird havens achieve World Heritage status
Ding Li Yong, Flyways Coordinator, BirdLife Asia
Not far from the bustling town of Seocheon, at the mouth of South Korea’s Geum Estuary, is the relatively flat island of Yubu. With the exception of a small hilly woodland area, Yubu is surrounded by vast expanses of mudflats. Each year, several thousand Eurasian oystercatchers of the distinctive eastern shape osculians Gather in a breathtaking spectacle on the shores of Yubu – perhaps more so than any other wetland in East Asia.
As it crosses the mainland at Seocheon, the ebb of the tide exposes intertidal mud flats that stretch as far as the eye can see into the Yellow Sea (or the West Sea as it is called in Korea). These support a significant percentage of the populations of two endangered shorebirds, the Far Eastern Curlew and the Endangered Sandpiper (both endangered), as well as a small but constant flow during periods of migration of two even rarer waders, the Spoonbill (Critically Endangered) and the Spotted Barker (Endangered).
The Geum River Estuary in Seocheon County, including Yubu Island, is one of four coastal wetlands inscribed in July this year by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and culture (UNESCO) as a World Heritage property. These sites also include the famous Suncheon Bay on the south coast, which is home to nearly a third of the world’s hooded crane population (vulnerable), and the mudflats of Gochang and the Shinan Archipelago.
The prestige that accompanies the UNESCO status not only embodies the exceptional importance of a site for biodiversity, but also provides some of the best guarantees for good management and protection. UNESCO’s listing of these four wetlands therefore marks an extremely important step in the conservation of the critically important intertidal wetlands of the Yellow Sea, and confirms what the conservation community has advocated – that these areas wetlands are important internationally.