VICTORY: Court Rules in Favor of the Saemangeum Wetland, South Korea
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Court Rules in Favor of the Saemangeum Wetland, South Korea
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February 4, 2005
OVERVIEW & COMMENTARY by Dr. Glen Barry, Forests.org
Today a court in Seoul, South Korea ruled that the Saemangeum Reclamation Project – which would destroy one of the most important wetlands in East Asia – must be halted immediately and be fully re-evaluated. This is a major victory for South Korean environmental sustainability, which Forests.org and you supported in no small way – as we generated many thousands of protest emails on the request of local organizers. The ill-conceived project intended to construct a 33-km long seawall, closing off 40,100 ha of tidal-flats and sea shallows for conversion to agriculture and a 17,000 ha reservoir for irrigation purposes. Saemangeum tidal flat provides important habitat for marine fisheries and migratory birds.
The Saemangeum reclamation project which has already commenced was to be the largest known coastal reclamation project in the world. The project has been the focus of intense criticism and opposition for a number of years, both locally and internationally. The Court clearly recognised the immense and irreversible damage that would be done to the tidal-flat system by the reclamation. Our partner Birds Korea is now calling for the government to officially halt the project ? information on taking part in their campaign is included below. Forests.org intends to soon re-issue a supportive alert on the matter. Congratulations to all that participated in this monumental victory ? yet there are more actions to be done on behalf of the Earth at http://forests.org/action/ .
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Title: Saemangeum – FANTASTIC NEWS
Source: Birds Korea
Date: February 4, 2005
Superb news today (February 4th, 2005): a Court in Seoul, South Korea has ruled that the Saemangeum Reclamation Project must be halted immediately, for a full re-evaluation.
The Court based its ruling on the fact that there is no longer a clear “end-use” for the land to be reclaimed. This is illegal under the Public Waters Act that demands that if public waters are to be reclaimed, then it must be primarily for agriculture. The Court ruled that no economic benefits can be expected from the Saemangeum reclamation project because of the anticipated economic costs caused by water pollution in the proposed reclamation reservoir (essential to developing agriculture); because any land created would be unusable for agriculture; and because of the costs of loss of the tidal-flat ecosystem.
The Court clearly recognised the immense and irreversible damage that would be done to the tidal-flat system by the reclamation.
This ruling comes at a time when the Government of President Roh (elected under a promise to be reformist, liberal and democratic) is being increasingly criticised by Korean media, NGOs and ordinary people because of its (stubborn) pushing of a number of development projects: the Saemangeum Reclamation; the building of a tunnel through Mount Cheonseong National Park for the Seoul-Busan high-speed railway; and a massive project to relocate the Korean capital, Seoul, to a new, undeveloped site in the countryside. None of these projects have been properly assessed for their environmental impact – all three are clearly deeply damaging.
We need to add to this internal pressure to make certain that the Korean Government understands how poorly their decisions are reflecting upon them internationally. We need them to understand that potential tourism will be affected if they continue with the reclamation. We need them to understand how badly such disregard for the environment is received abroad
We have written a letter that we urge as many people as possible to copy and send to the email addresses given.
A great deal of work has earned this fantastic opportunity to get the catastrophic Saemangeum Reclamation project stopped – please spend just a few minutes of your time now and help us finish off this project once and for all.
(For more information on the Saemangeum reclamation project in English, go to:
For recent court opinions and government responses, go to:
Letter to Korean Embassies in Your Country
(A list of contact email addresses for a number of Korean embassies abroad can be found at http://www.birdskorea.org/korems.asp. Please copy the mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and to email@example.com)
I am a birdwatcher. Like many of the millions of birdwatchers worldwide, I enjoy travelling to see birds and I support the conservation of important bird habitats. Places that support birds support other wildlife too, and their natural productivity and potential value to tourism are very important assets to all nations individually and to the world as a whole.
The Saemangeum estuaries in South Korea form one of the most important bird habitats in Asia. The natural tidal-flats and shallows support huge concentrations of many waterbirds, including some of the world's highest concentrations of threatened migratory bird species, such as the Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Spotted Greenshank.
If the Saemangeum estuaries were reclaimed, changed to rice-fields, golf courses or industrial lands as presently proposed, then such species would decline and eventually be lost. This would be in obvious breach of existing obligations accepted by South Korea through its membership of international Conventions dedicated to species conservation, such as Ramsar and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Pushing on with the reclamation project means that South Korea (and the world) would lose an extremely important bird habitat, at a cost to its natural resource base and its international image.
Now, however, South Korea has been given a great opportunity. On February 4th, 2005, domestic courts ruled that the Saemangeum reclamation project has to be suspended and completely re-evaluated. I applaud this court ruling and join many in Korea in respectfully urging the government of South Korea to accept the inevitable, and to cancel this most costly project once and for all.
Through cancellation of the Saemangeum reclamation project now, South Korea would reveal itself to be a mature nation, dedicated to sustainable development, aware of its legal and international responsibilities. Such a country is surely one where many of the world's birdwatchers would choose to visit.
Cancellation of the Saemangeum reclamation: fewer costs – more benefits.
Thank you very much for your support,
Nial and Charlie Moores, Park Meena, Kim Sukyung
Birds Korea: The national and international network dedicated to the conservation
of birds and their habitats.
Title: Victory for the Saemangeum Wetland, South Korea
Source: Birds Korea
Date: February 4, 2005
I would like to let you know of a happy news for conserving Saemangeum tidal flat, one of the most important wetlands in East Asia.
In a decision in a lawsuit raised by environmental groups and citizens living around the Saemangeum tidal flat area to cancel the Saemangeum Reclamation Project in August, 2001, the Seoul Administration Court ruled in favor of environmental conservation on Feb. 4, 2005.
The lawsuit has been led by lawyers from Environmental Law Center of KFEM-FoE Korea. KFEM-FoE Korea welcomes the decision and urges Korean government to respect the court's ruling and the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
KFEM-FoE Korea would like to express our deepest gratitude to those who supported the campaign from the inside and outside of the country. We will keep trying to conserve the important wetland and lives depending on the healthy tidal-flats.
Please read more information below.
Thank you again for your support and concern.
All the best,
Victory for the Saemangeum wetland
Seoul Administration Court rules in favor of environmental concerns
On February 4th, 2005, the Seoul Administrative Court ruled in favor of environmental conservation in a legal suit challenging the controversial Saemangeum Reclamation Project brought by environmental groups and local people living around the Saemangeum tidal-flats.
The court ruled that no economic benefits can be expected from the Saemangeum reclamation project because of the anticipated economic losses caused by water pollution in the proposed reclamation reservoir, and by the destruction of the tidal-flat ecosystem.
The court ruled therefore that it is necessary to cancel or change the permit to reclaim the public water area, because the environmental, ecological and economic damage to be expected from the project is huge and irreversible. They listed the following reasons to support their ruling to change or cancel the original permit: the possibility of using land reclaimed through the project for agriculture is very low; it is anticipated that the water quality in the reclamation reservoir will be too poor to use for agriculture; estimates of economic benefits to be derived from converting the existing area to agriculture are flawed; and massive damage will be caused to the tidal-flat ecosystem.
The court added that no decision has yet been made on the end-use of the land to be reclaimed, but reiterated that it cannot be used for agriculture as water in the reclamation reservoir created for that purpose will be too polluted.
The court did not rule against continuing work to reinforce the existing sea-wall, but did rule against construction of any further sea-wall required to close the remaining 2.7 km stretch that remains open.
The massive and controversial reclamation project along the southwestern coastline of North Jeolla Province has therefore yet again run into another major hurdle due to this ruling.
Earlier, the court had tried to suggest a way forward by recommending that further research be conducted before their final ruling was made. It also recommended that the government should halt the project and set up a committee of experts to review fully the potential environmental and economic consequences of the reclamation. The court also suggested that parliament should legislate a special law to help iron out such issues. Although, environmental groups and local fishermen had welcomed these recommendations, the government and the ruling Uri Party openly rejected them on January 28th.
As the court has now ruled in favor of environmental conservation, the government will bring the case to the Seoul High Court.
Further Background Information
The Saemangeum reclamation is the largest known coastal reclamation project in the world. Initiated in 1991, the project called for the construction of a 33-km long seawall, to close off 40,100 ha of tidal-flats and sea shallows for conversion to agriculture and a 17,000 ha reservoir, to use for irrigation purposes. The permit to reclaim the area was issued in accordance with the Public Waters Act, which requires that the primary end-use of all areas so reclaimed is agriculture.
The project has been the focus of intense criticism and opposition for a number of years, both domestic and international.
Much of the domestic criticism has been based on the anticipated impacts to fisheries and fishing communities dependent upon the existing estuarine system, and on the massive environmental degradation being caused both by construction and proposed end-use. Domestic NGOs have been quick to point out the similarities between Saemangeum and other reclamation projects (e.g. Shihwa Lake), which when completed were shown to be unfit for agriculture due to water pollution. To protest the reclamation, NGOs and key individuals have conducted numerous protests, including challenging the reclamation project in the courts.
International criticism has focused largely on the importance of the Saemangeum estuarine system to migratory waterbird populations, which in accordance with national obligations held under both the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity need to be conserved by the government of South Korea. The Saemangeum estuarine system is presently known as the single most important shorebird site in Yellow Sea, a region of critical importance to waterbirds of the East Asia-Australasian Flyway; it supports at least 27 waterbird species in internationally important concentrations; and has become known throughout the world as the most important known staging site for the endangered and fast-declining Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmeus.
This most recent court ruling, made on February 5th 2005, can be understood as the latest in a string of setbacks plaguing this project, and is likely to become the most embarrassing and damaging of all. It repeats concerns already made clear by the courts in 2003 (subsequently ignored by project proponents), and again validates the concerns of opponents to the project. This latest ruling clearly asks the government to respect national law and to reconsider the project honestly. Only time will tell if the national government has the maturity and wisdom to accept such a ruling, or if it instead remains determined to push ahead at all costs with a project declared both illegal and unnecessary by its critics.
For more information on the Saemangeum reclamation project in English, go to:
For recent court opinions and government responses, go to:
Korean Federation for Environmental Movement(KFEM) /
Friends of the Earth Korea(FoE Korea)
251 Nuha-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea 110-806
Tel : +82-(0)2-735-7000
Fax : +82-(0)2-730-1240