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Ramsar meeting in South Korea 2008

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Ken Gosbell, chairman of the Australia Waders Study group (AWSG) and Dr Danny Rogers, scientific expert for AWSG, outline the importance of this week’s Ramsar meeting in Korea and focus on a new book that documents the importance of the East Asian Australasian flyway for migratory shorebirds.
Following a major reclamation at Saemangeum in South Korea, AWGS combined with Birds Korea to undertake scientific surveys on these major tidal mudflats. In three years, for example, some 140,000 birds have disappeared, 100,000 of which belong to one species – the Great Knot. In Australia, where Roebuck Bay is a major feeding ground, some 25,000 have disappeared.


The Great Knot is a specialist feeder, probing for bivalves such as clams and cockles in tidal mudflats. Since many Great Knots migrate from Australia to their Siberian breeding grounds, a stopover to refuel is a must and Saemangeum provided the perfect halfway point. The mudflats here were huge, stretching for kilometres. They were recipients of the rich sediments from the Yangtze and Yellow rivers and the tides were enormous due to the shallow nature of the Yellow Sea. It was one of the richest feeding grounds for migratory shorebirds anywhere in the world.

Not any more. With over half the land taken by the reclamation, many of the bivalves have also disappeared, impacting adversely on the Great Knot. One important part of the Ramsar meeting will be a symposium on the Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program (SSMP), where a comprehensive report on the effects of the reclamation will be tabled. To back up this report, copies of a new book, Invisible Connections (by Jan van de Kam), will be provide to Ramsar delegates. The book, with texts written by experts, is a stunningly photographed journey following the flyway from New Zealand to Australia and on to the Yellow Sea, ultimately ending in Siberia. It captures both the birds and their behaviours and each page is written in three languages – English, Korean and Chinese.


One of the key draft resolutions being brought to Ramsar looks at the need to conserve flyways, with particular mention of the Yellow Sea area. Hopefully the book (and the Ramsar meeting) will provide the impetus that governments need in order to weigh the benefits of long term conservation of shorebird feeding grounds against the short term gain of political kudos for large construction projects.

It would be truly sad if these invisible connections were to become really invisible.

Text: V.B. October 08


All pictures from Invisible Connections by Jan van de Kam published by Wetlands International, Wageningen.

From top to bottom:

(a) cover page
(b) Whimbrel aggressively defending feeding territories p 134
(c) Common Greenshank eats a bristle-worm p 132
(d) endpaper


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Introduction to the Ramsar Convention and its goals Danny Rogers reports some positive initiatives

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