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Land reclamation in South Korea

 "Progress" is burying marine life and coastal lifestyles.

The west coast of Korea is famous for its tidal mudflats. These tidal flats are among the largest in the world - with mudflats at low tide exposed for up to 5 kilometres out to sea. These tidal flats are of great economic and ecological importance. They supply millions of Koreans with a wide variety of fresh seafood and are important breeding areas for many commercial fish species. Korea's productive tidal flats are also important winter feeding and spring breeding grounds for thousands of migratory birds that are part of the East Asian - Australasian Shorebird network.

Despite their importance, Korea's mudflat environments are under considerable threat from a number of human impacts. The most significant of these is the threat of complete habitat loss as a result of extensive "land reclamation" programs.

 Why reclaim mudflats?
Despite its mountainous terrain, Korea has a strong agricultural tradition. As her population grew, land for agriculture diminished - and new lands were sought for farming, as well as the development of the industrial estates that saw Korea become a significant manufacturing country.

Along Korea's western and southern coasts, land reclamation has created millions of hectares of "new" land.

Filled mudflats and estuaries have been turned into industrial estates, rice fields and apartment projects, often leaving traditional fishing villages marooned kilometres "inland" from the new shoreline.

The economic value of Korea's mudflats, including the important functions of food production and water filtration they perform, has been estimated at three times the value of rice production from the filled mudflats.

Source: KORDI

The environmental and economic loss created by these enormous projects is now being realised. Korea's local, provincial and national governments are seeking alternatives to a system which is wasteful of natural, economic and cultural resources on a grand scale. 

Ironically, countless billions of won (Korean currency) have been expended to fill in these incredibly productive ecosystems. 

A traditional Korean fisher collects eels from the tidal flats of the west coast. Areas like this have been filled in for agriculture and industrial development.
Photo by Je Jong-Geel.

This map shows the extent of existing and proposed reclamation areas in Korea. Most areas are either intertidal mudflats or highly productive estuaries. In many cases, islands are connected to each other and to the shore by large walls - the wetlands in between are then filled in with earth transported down from Korea's mountains.

yellow = planned
red = completed
green = under construction

Source: KORDI 

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