The West/Yellow Sea, lies at the heart of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, a migratory route for 50 million migratory waterbirds traverse on an annual basis which stretches from Russia Far East and Alaska, U.S.A. south to Australia and New Zealand covering 22 countries. This region is surrounded by three countries: The People’s Republic of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPR Korea) and the Republic of Korea (RO Korea). The wetland habitats in this region, especially the intertidal mudflat in this area serve as fuelling, staging stations for two million shorebirds, or 40% of total birds in the Flyway, annually.
However, the intertidal mudflat in this region has shrunk by over 65% in past decades, but recent studies in countries outside the Yellow Sea region showing rapid declines of migratory shorebirds strongly related to the loss of the birds’ habitats in the West/Yellow Sea. This illustrates the sites in different countries along the Flyway are highly interconnected due to the migratory waterbirds, and it is crucial to protect, as it is one of the world’s most important migratory bottlenecks for watebirds.
The Government of the Republic of Korea has nominated 4 sites of intertidal mudflats, or “Getbol” in Korean, on the country’s southwestern coast of the Yellow/West Sea as the candidate of UNESCO’s World Heritage listing. This group of four sites included in the Phase I nomination are Seocheon Getbol (EAAF101), Gochang Getbol, Shinan Getbol (EAAF146) and Boseong-Suncheon Getbol (EAAF079), covering over 128,000 ha (or 1280 km2) of wetlands. Apart from its spectacular geological processes, these areas are rich in biodiversity, with 2,169 invertebrate species, 857 macrobenthos, 152 marine macroalgae, 47 endemic and 5 endangered marine invertebrate species recorded. The richly diverse benthic community supports a huge number of migratory waterbirds. In addition, the endangered Narrow-ridged Finless Porpoise is often found in the waters within the nominated sites.
Bird surveys have revealed that these sites supported 102 waterbird species and some 34 species with internationally important numbers. The sites were crucial for 15 globally threatened waterbird species including Spoon-billed Sandpiper (CR), Far Eastern Curlew (EN), Nordmann’s Greenshank (EN), Great Knot (EN), Black-faced Spoonbill (EN), Hooded Crane (VU), Saunders’s Gull (VU), Chinese Egret (VU) Swan Goose (VU), Relict Gull (VU), Horned Grebe (VU), White-naped Crane (VU) and Common Pochard (VU). The nomination would also secure the reintroduced population of Oriental Stork (EN). Legflag observations and satellite tracking data furthered confirmed the nominated sites interlinked with other countries in the Flyway.
Because of such ecological connectivity of the migratory waterbirds along the Flyway, the World Heritage inscription is not just a matter to the Republic of Korea, as it contributes to assuring that the critical staging area for migratory waterbirds in the Flyway is secured. It is essential to safeguard the integrity of Yellow/West Sea intertidal flat, together with the on-going designation of World Heritage Sites along China coast of the Yellow Sea and potentially with the habitats along DPR Korea at a future date. The future of millions of migratory waterbirds now lay on the hands of the World Heritage Committee to agree on the “Outstanding Universal Value” of this Getbol nomination. The result announcement for this nomination will be made at the upcoming annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee in China in July 2021.
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