Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Spotted Greenshank. Chinese Egret. Far eastern Curlew. Black-faced Spoonbill. Saunders’s Gull. Great Knot.
If you’re a regular reader of this site, chances are good that you’ve never seen any of these birds. Most likely, you never will. But I want you to care about them anyway.
A vast expanse of tidal flats called Saemangeum is situated on the western coast of South Korea along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. This important ecosystem, pronounced “Say-man-gum”, serves as one of the world’s greatest shorebird staging sites, essential to all the birds listed above, most especially the fast-declining Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of shorebirds are drawn annually to this habitat, Saemangeum is just a whisker away from being completely reclaimed, converted to rice-fields, golf courses, and other economically “productive” areas following the construction of a 33km long sea-wall.
The sacrifice of ecology for industry occurs every single day around the world. What makes Saemangeum special, apart from its vowel-laden name?
For one, according to Birds Korea, habitat loss and degradation has become so widespread throughout the Yellow Sea that many species of bird appear to be undergoing significant declines, with many already threatened with extinction. The East Asian-Australasian Flyway is thought to host more endangered species of waterbird than any other major flyway. Many of those species stage at Saemangeum after direct flights of several thousand kilometres. Many other staging sites have already been destroyed.
Another reason to care about this situation is that Charlie Moores is the one raising the alarm. This international man of mystery, the protagonist naturalist of the marvelous Charlie’s Bird Blog, has crisscrossed the planet and witnessed environmental horrors by the score. However, apart from his weakness for the plight of Barn Swallows in Africa, he rarely exhorts his global audience to intervene directly in distant affairs. Saemangeum is different for him. As the cofounder of Birds Korea, he is committed to stopping the destruction of habitat in the Yellow Sea eco-region.
The environmental obligation of birding is often ignored. Worrying about this arctic reserve and that river valley is just too much to take sometimes. Most of us would rather just give money to Audubon, cross our fingers for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and go look at some owls. Nothing wrong with that, except that everything in this world is connected and occasionally action is required. If self interest is your primary motivator, allow me to point out that of the birds I listed, three of them appear casually in the ABA area and one other makes the scene with extreme infrequency. That means that those of you with a North American Big Year in your future should care. Those of you anticipating a birding trip to Asia should care. Shorebird fans should care. Bird fans should care. Everyone should care because, at the risk of sounding repetitious, everything is connected. We have already lost precious species, avian and otherwise, on our watch. With every loss, we are diminished.
Apart from environmental reasons, I care because Charlie is a good friend, not just of this site, but to an expansive network of blogs, birders, and conservationists. He needs money to bring an internationally-recognized group of researchers and ornithologists to South Korea in an effort to produce data compelling enough to shut down the Saemangeum Reclamation Project. To raise that money, he’s organizing a Birdwatch Day for Saemangeum fundraising drive. The gist of this promotion is that interested parties can recruit sponsors to pledge money linked to the results of a day of birding on either February 5th or 6th. Consider me interested.
I’m prepared to do the hard work of watching birds on a frigid February morning. I’ll even wake up early. What I would like readers of this site to do is pledge donations to support the effort to protect Saemangeum. Offer a dime, a quarter, or a dollar per bird; there’s no way I’ll spot more than forty species in a few hours this time of year. A little bit will go a long way towards averting a potential environmental catastrophe. South Korea may be far from where you live…it’s nearly on the other side of the planet from me. But this world of ours gets smaller everyday. Do your part for the global ecology and help me help Charlie help Saemangeum!