Monday, 24 Nov, 2008 Environment

South Korea Destroys Wetlands for the Sake of Economic Growth


South Korea is planning a new land reclamation project on the territory of Saemangeum which should give rise to the country's economy. However, environmentalists are hostile to such perspective and consider it a threat to ecological balance.

According to the project, 400 square km of coastland will be reclaimed for the construction of waste water treatment facilities, golf-links as well as factories. This land will no longer serve as a feeding area for endangered bird species.

"This project is not about protecting the environment. It is about economic development. And we will do that in an environmentally sound way," said Park Hyoungbae, an official representative of the Saemangeum project.

As authorities say, North Jeollaa will turn from an agricultural province into an industrialized area in the course of this $3 billion project. In order to draw the interest of foreign investors, developers make ample promises, such as free lease of land for 100 years for certain production branches, accommodation as well as tax break.

As a result of human intervention in nature, a number of lakes will appear in place of riverbeds; natural wetlands will give place to artificial ones. Besides, project designers plan to build an amusement park, a casino and a convention center to make it an attractive place for tourists.

A reclamation project was initially planned for the Yellow Sea estuary several decades ago when the country's economy faced hard times. The idea was to expand farm lands in order to provide food for the population. However, reclamation began only in 1999 after several years of fierce disputes about means of land use. In 2006 the construction of the dyke was finally completed, reported Reuters.

It's worth mentioning that local farmers doubted the success of this project as there were no workers to farm the land because of the decrease of population. Besides, poor infrastructure had a negative influence upon major home industry. According to critics, the project was developed thanks to bureaucratic inertia as it offered jobs in the field of construction. Thus the area provided considerable power base for left-leaning presidents who were in power from 1998 to 2008. Lee Myung-bak, the current president, also gave hearty support to the project, considering it important for the country's development especially for its export-oriented economy.

The importance of wetlands from the ecological point of view is underestimated. According the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, such areas as Saemangeum help to avert soil erosion, to maintain flood control, to accumulate greenhouse gases from the atmosphere of the Earth.

If we consider previous experiences, we'll see that the recent reclamation project carried out in Japan's Isahaya Bay led to horrifying consequences. As Japanese academics reported, the quality of sea water and soil went down. Soon after a Japanese court acknowledged that the project inflicted damage on the environment, especially local fisheries, and obligated the government to open gates at Isahaya.

Conservation groups say, the Saemangeum project has already exerted an adverse impact upon the environment because of wetland destruction which brings threatened species on the verge of extinction. Very often these tidal flats served as the only place where migrating birds could stop for refueling while traveling from Russia and Alaska to Australia and New Zealand.

A research carried out by conservation groups Birds Korea and Australasian Wader Studies Group demonstrates that the number of shorebirds has declined at Saemangeum. The loss of wetlands caused a significant reduction of the endangered Spotted Greenshank and Spoon-billed Sandpiper populations.

"We anticipate the declines will not only continue but become more obvious in other species," said Nial Moores, director of Birds Korea.

Source: #

Posted by sharaeff

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