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Ramsar conference wrap up with Ken Gosbell

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Ken Gosbell, Chairman of the Australasian Waders Study Group (AWSG), provides a delegate's assessment of the recent Ramsar meeting in South Korea.    
With some 2000 delegates from 168 countries, world wetlands areas were the focus of the recent 8-day Ramsar meeting.

Left: Ken Gosbell at the plenary session at Ramsar CoP,  together with Ms Park Meena, the National Coordinator for Birds Korea.

Danny Rogers launching the SSMP Report at the media conference at Ramsar

Photos from Ken Gosbell.


For AWSG and Birds Korea, several draft resolutions were particularly relevant, especially in changing the attitudes of countries that surround the Yellow Sea, namely China and South Korea. Armed with  three years of data from their Saemangeum Monitoring Project, important presentations were made in the days before Ramsar. One was to an audience of World Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) and another to the International Symposium on East Asian Coastal Wetlands. These presentations reported some of the key findings concerning the impact of mudflat reclamation on migratory shorebirds. The evidence that Saemangeum, once a prime feeding site and stopover for many thousands of migratory shorebirds had been turned into a virtual wasteland was compelling. Further, the study showed that the decrease in Great Knot numbers by about 20% at Saemangeum had been matched by a similar decline in their numbers returning to Roebuck Bay in WA - their main nonbreeding location. There is no evidence that the birds have gone elsewhere either in the Yellow Sea or in WA. 

In a significant move, the key outcomes from the international symposium were attached (as an annexe) to a resolution calling for the international conservation of waterbird flyways, an acknowledgement of the significance of the symposium’s outcomes. 
These essentially valued the Yellow Sea as a major area for migratory shorebirds and criticised the major reclamations carried out in the Yellow Sea and  suggested that both China and Korea take note of this and provide protection for tidal mudflats by ceasing reclamations.  The response by South Korea was positive, with the government giving commitment to scale back and not undertake further 'major' reclamations. This kind of environmental statement was unheard of even a year ago.
While NGOs in Korea would take heart from the Ramsar resolution, they lack a powerful political voice since there is no national organisation of the many NGOs. However this may be changing since during the week of Ramsar, there was a separate meeting (the Yellow Sea Partnership), at which ways to develop partnerships were discussed by representatives from NGOs, academics and government. This may also benefit from a developing collaborative partnership between the Wadden Sea countries and the Korean government. These countries (Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands) have vast experiences in the transboundary management of waterbird habitat in the Wadden Sea and have developed effective techniques which could be used as a model in the Yellow Sea.
With Ramsar acknowledging the importance of the tidal mudflats on the Yellow Sea and the South Korean government sending signals of a change in attitude, Ken Gosbell is hopeful of a brighter future for tidal mudflats around the world. However, translation of words of commitment into a realised environmental outcome seems to be a slow process that requires alert and active oversight.

Text: V.B.  November 08

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