Shorebirds of the Yellow Sea

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


I first became interested in shorebirds in the early 1950s and since then have spent countless hours watching and studying them in numerous wetlands around the world. Over that period I've often asked myself the question "Why do shorebirds fascinate me so much?" - especially when there's a gale blowing and I'm up to my ankles in mud!

The best answer I've come up with is because they are such free spirits living in some of the most beautiful places on earth; moving endlessly to feed and roost as the moon dictates the ebb and flow of the tide, and migrating from one side of the earth to the other to breed in harmony with the sun. Heavenly birds in heavenly places!

Since I retired I've been very fortunate to have spent much of the last seven northward migration periods in a number of wetlands spread around the Yellow Sea coastline of China. I went there to train nature reserve staff in shorebird ecology and management, and counting shorebirds formed an important part of the training programmes. What I've seen during this period almost defies belief! Every coastal wetland I've visited has had large, sometimes enormous, numbers of shorebirds. The counts have been the first ever made at some of the sites. At the same time as the surveys were being conducted on the Chinese side, the South Koreans were counting shorebirds on the extensive intertidal areas of the west and south coasts of their country.

It soon became very obvious that the Yellow Sea is an extremely important staging area for migratory shorebirds. It also supports large numbers of birds during the non-breeding season.

Unfortunately for the shorebirds, the wetlands they use around the Yellow Sea are very much reduced in area compared to 50 years ago and are continuing to be significantly threatened by ongoing reclamation, pollution, human disturbance and the insidious effects of reduced river flows.

I decided to write this monograph because I believe it is very important to tell the story of the seemingly countless shorebirds of the Yellow Sea and the very serious threats to the habitats they use. I hope that the documented information provided in this monograph will lead to better informed policy and decision making by governments and provide conservationists with the necessary data to press governments to take effective action to protect the shorebirds and their habitats.

Inaction will inevitably lead to serious problems for migratory shorebirds and the very real danger that there won't be any "heavenly birds in heavenly places" for future generations to enjoy. The world would be a very much poorer place if that should ever happen.

As I intend to update the monograph when significant new information becomes available, I would be very grateful for advice of additional count and site data that should be included in future reports and of any corrections to the existing information. Suggestions on ways in which the monograph can be improved will also be gratefully received.

Mark Barter
June 2002