Shorebirds of the Yellow Sea

Importance, threats and conservation status
Mark Barter
Wetlands International, 2002
ISBN 90 5882 009 2

7. Conservation of shorebirds and their habitats in the Yellow Sea (continued)

7.5 Habitat conservation in coastal Protected Areas

The known coastal Protected Areas in the Yellow Sea are listed in Table 8 and their locations shown in Figure 7. About 16% of the total intertidal area of the Yellow Sea is currently within Protected Areas, with China having 21% of its intertidal area within Protected Areas, North Korea 5% and South Korea 0.3%.

Protected Areas in China are generally divided into three parts: core area, buffer zone and experimental zone. The core area is fully protected. In the buffer zone, only scientific observations and research activities are allowed. The area surrounding the buffer zone is designated as the experimental zone, which may be used for such activities as scientific experimentation, education, tourism and the domestication and breeding of rare and endangered wild animals or plant species. If necessary, an outer protection area surrounding the nature reserve may be designated (UNDP 2000a). Experience gained during visits to the majority of Chinese Yellow Sea nature reserves shows that the wetland resources of the buffer and experimental zones are widely exploited, perhaps unsustainably, and that levels of human disturbance are significant; even core areas can be negatively impacted, despite their "fully protected " status (pers. obs.).

The National Wetland Conservation Action Plan for China (NWCAPC 2000) notes that the area and habitat coverage of reserves is inadequate and that they suffer from poor management, insufficient funds and equipment.

Management of the North Korean reserves is restricted by lack of operational plans, training and equipment (UNDP 2000c).

The only coastal reserve on the west coast of South Korea protects about 5% of Dongjin Gang Hagu which, together with the adjacent Mangyeung Gang Hagu, is the most important area for migratory shorebirds in the country. The intertidal areas of these two estuaries are currently being reclaimed as part of the Saemangeum Reclamation Project totalling 401 km2. Plans are being developed for the designation of protected tidal flats in the southern part of Ganghwa Do, and at Hampyeong Man and Aphae Do (Je 2002).

Clearly intertidal areas in the Yellow Sea are inadequately protected by the existing Protected Area system with respect to both coverage and management. Furthur recognition could be given to areas of international importance to shorebirds by nominating these sites for listing under the Ramsar Convention and the Shorebird Site Network.

7.6 Synthesis

Analysis of the situations in the three littoral countries shows that the causes of wetland problems, and the proposed solutions, are very similar.

The problems are mainly due to:

  1. inadequate data on biodiversity and socio-economic conditions in wetland areas;
  2. lack of understanding at all levels of the important benefits supplied by coastal wetlands;
  3. inadequate coordination between authorities responsible for wetland management;
  4. lack of effective Environmental Impact Assessment systems;
  5. inadequate, poorly managed, Protected Area systems; and
  6. shortage of funds.

The proposed solutions directly address these problems.

Given the common interest of the three countries in a healthy Yellow Sea ecosystem, it seems that the most effective and efficient way forward is for them to cooperate in developing and implementing solutions. The joint China-South Korea project being developed under UNDP auspices (UNDP 2000e) goes part way towards meeting this need, but it is interesting to note that two other highly relevant projects, i.e. Coastal Biodiversity Management of DPR Korea's West Sea (UNDP 2000c) and Conservation of Globally Significant Wetlands in the Republic of Korea (UNDP 2000d) are being approached on a single country basis.

Table 8 Coastal Protected Areas in the Yellow Sea
Protected Area Status Juristriction Area (km2)
Jiu Duan Sha Provincial Forestry 114
Chongming Dao* Provincial Forestry 326
Yancheng* National Environment Protection 4 530
Huang He* National Forestry 1 530
Changli Golden Coast National Oceania 300
Shuangtaizihekou* National Forestry 800
Yalu Jiang* National Environment Protection 1081
North Korea
Sin Do National Land & Environment Protection 20
Mundok National Land & Environment Protection 30
Unyul National Land & Environment Protection 8
Ryong Yon National Land & Environment Protection 20
Ongjin National Land & Environment Protection 15
Chongdon National Land & Environment Protection 15
South Korea
Dongjin Gang Hagu* National Forestry 8

*Involved in the East Asian-Australasian Shorebird Site Network

Another very important project being implemented in China, i.e. Coastal Resource Conservation and Environmental Management Project for the Bohai Sea (ADB 2000b), is dealing with that part of the Yellow Sea which in the past has been the most important source of larvae and juvenile marine invertebrates for the Yellow and East China Seas. Thus, the condition of the Bo Hai Sea is critically important to improving the functioning of the Yellow Sea ecosystem, as a whole, and the successful completion of this project is of great importance to North Korea and South Korea, as well as China.

It is highly desirable that there be very close cooperation between those involved in the four projects as they are dealing with important elements of the same issue - the poor health of the Yellow Sea ecosystem.

7.7 An ecoregion approach to conservation

7.7.1 Background

Effective conservation of migratory shorebirds and their wetland habitats is a challenging task at any time, but it is particularly difficult around the Yellow Sea coastline where development activities are generally undertaken with little regard for environmental consequences.

The traditional approach to nature conservation of creating a network of protected areas, with severe limitations being placed on human activities, is inappropriate in the Yellow Sea due to the very extensive nature of the intertidal areas in the region and the high dependence of the local communities on the intertidal resources. Even nature reserves in China have large human populations, e.g. 90 000 people live within the Yancheng NNR.

Successful conservation activity will depend on the adoption of suitable national policies and plans for the appropriate use of intertidal and sub-coastal areas. These will need to be harmonized across the three littoral countries. Local community support will be an essential factor in creating the necessary political environment for the development and successful implementation of these policies and plans.

The concern of China, North Korea and South Korea about the serious environmental problems in the Yellow Sea has led to the development of one bilateral project (UNDP 2000e) and three unilateral projects (UNDP 2000c, 2000d; ADB 2000a).

7.7.2 An ecoregion based approach to conservation of Yellow Sea biodiversity

The exceptional importance of the Yellow Sea biodiversity, both on a global scale and as a shared resource for the three littoral countries, makes it highly desirable that conservation activity be implemented on an ecoregion-basis (see WWF (2000) and TNC (2000) for discussion of the concept of ecoregion conservation).

Therefore, it is encouraging that World Wide Fund for Nature-Japan has commenced a project called the Yellow Sea Region Initiative that has as its core objective the maintenance of a viable, diverse and productive Yellow Sea eco-system in the long term.

As explained in Yuan et al. (2001), development of ecoregion-based conservation progresses in steps, as follows:

  1. Collection of multi-disciplinary data from the ecoregion on biodiversity, ecological processes and socio-economic activities in order to identify characteristic species, communities and ecological processes, as well as to determine the key conservation issues;
  2. Determination of priority areas through review of the data on biodiversity distribution and ecological processes;
  3. Setting of long-term conservation goals;
  4. Analysis of the socio-economic data to establish the threats to and opportunities for biodiversity conservation;
  5. Development of a comprehensive conservation plan for the ecoregion.

Step 1 has commenced with the publication of two reports which provide information on the geophysical environment, biological resources, human pressures, and legal and policy frameworks in China (Yuan et al. 2001) and South Korea (Moores et al. 2001).

The challenge will be to drive the process through to the point where a Yellow Sea ecoregion conservation plan is adopted and implemented by the Governments of China, North Korea and South Korea.

Only then will the future for the globally-important biodiversity of the Yellow Sea become brighter and the prospects of the millions of shorebirds passing through the region more promising.