Suncheon Roundtable Meeting – Building Inter-Korea Cooperation

On 30th of October 2020, Suncheon City hosted the “Roundtable Meeting on Building Inter-Korea Cooperation” with the Mayor of Suncheon City, Mr. Heo Seok at the Suncheon Bay International Wildlife Center in Suncheon City, Republic of Korea (ROK). The meeting was attended by the Ramsar Regional Centre – East Asia (RRCEA), Hanns Seidel Foundation, Korea and the EAAFP Secretariat.

Suncheon Bay (EAAF 79), which was designated as the EAAFP Flyway Network Site in 2016, has become a famous example of a well-managed wetland in the EAA Flyway. As an ecological park that attracts numerous tourists every year, Suncheon Bay Wetland Reserve is an international model of community-led conservation and sustainable ecotourism.

Suncheon Roundtable Meeting © Tino Maduku/EAAFP Secretariat

The roundtable meeting sought to explore ideas for Inter-Korean cooperation, focusing on the ecological linkages for preserving the habitats of migratory waterbirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. The participants discussed possible strategies to promote cooperation between the ROK and DPRK, noting the progress they have made so far to build relations with the DPRK. Future cooperation with the DPRK and the roles of the three international organizations (EAAFP Secretariat, Hanns Seidel Foundation Korea, and Ramsar Regional East Asia Center) in achieving inter-Korea cooperation were emphasized.

The meeting began with a welcome speech by the Suncheon City Mayor, Mr. Heo Seok. In his speech, he noted that regardless of our man-made boundaries, the ROK and DPRK are connected through birds that are freely crossing the borders. As Suncheon City recently signed an MOU on the sustainable use of wetlands, Mr. Heo Seok suggested that now is the right time to cooperate and participate in international collaboration.

Suncheon City Mayor, Mr. Heo Seok giving welcome speech ⓒ Tino Maduku/EAAFP Secretariat

Mr. Doug Watkins, the Chief Executive of the EAAFP Secretariat, delivered a speech expressing his appreciation to Suncheon City for organizing and hosting the roundtable meeting, as international collaboration is vital to protecting migratory birds and their habitats. He mentioned the Flyway Site Network and Sister Site Agreement could be used as an instrument to leverage cooperation.

Mr. Doug Watkins, Chief Executive of EAAFP giving a speech ⓒ Tino Maduku/EAAFP Secretariat

There was an open discussion session followed by the remarks by Mr. Suh Seong Oh, Executive Director of the RRC-EA and Dr. Bernhard Seliger, Resident Representative of Hanns Seidel Foundation Korea. Practical ideas and suggestions were shared during the roundtable for strategies on how to enhance collaboration and relations with the DPRK. Participants suggested that sharing the experiences of Suncheon Bay International Wildlife Center and how they became a successful model of ecotourism could be of great interest to the DPRK, particularly as they begin to explore possibilities of ecotourism on their wetlands. Avian Influenza, and the experiences of Suncheon City in controlling the influenza was also raised as a topic of interest to share with the DPRK.

Multilateral approach was mentioned as a possible mechanism to involve both the ROK and DRPK. The speakers of the conference agreed that as Suncheon already has a Sister Site Agreement with Izumi Flyway Network Site (FNS) in Japan, a link to Mundok could pave the path for engaging in trilateral collaboration, especially since the Hooded Crane is a common species of all three sites.

Suncheon City stated that based on the discussions at the roundtable conference, they will plan the implementation of the Hooded Crane Network Project from next year, producing photos and video clips of the Hooded Crane in the EAA flyway . For this project, Suncheon City is hoping to collaborate with 6 countries along the Hooded Crane’s migratory path—ROK, DPRK, China, Japan, Russia, and Mongolia— to spread awareness of the interconnected nature of these wetland habitats. Concluding the meeting, participants of the conference expressed their hope to organize or participate in future workshops and festivals in the DPRK as the covid outbreak subsides.

Group photo of the Roundtable meeting © Tino Maduku/EAAFP Secretariat

Dr. Seliger from Hanns Seidel Foundation presenting © Tino Maduku/EAAFP Secretariat

Presentation by Site Manager Ms. Hwan Sunmi © Tino Maduku/EAAFP Secretariat

Before the meeting, Site manager of Suncheon Bay FNS, Ms. Hwang Sunmi, guided a morning bird survey with the surveyor from 5:30am. The team counted over 500 individuals of Hooded Crane and observed other migratory waterbirds including the Whopper Swan and Common Crane. The Director of the Suncheon Bay Wetland Reserve informed the group that the site manager, NGOs, and many bird watchers including student groups participate in counting the waterbirds of Suncheon Bay. The surveyor Mr. Kang Na-ru, has also been tracking the daily counts of some of the site’s waterbirds such as the Hooded Crane, and upload the count number on Suncheon City Official website. This helps to monitor the cranes which continue their journey to fly over to their wintering site in Izumi, Japan. Recording the daily fluctuations in their numbers will provide valuable ecological data for understanding the cranes’ migration patterns.

Group photo of EAAFP Secretirat and the Hanns Seidel Foundation Team with Site managers of Suncheon Bay Flyway Network Site © Tino Maduku/EAAFP Secretariat

Interview of Mr. Doug Watkins and Dr. Bernhard Seliger by KBC News

Local media release:

KBC’s coverage of the conference, including the interview with Mr. Doug Watkins from the the EAAFP Secretariat and Dr. Seliger from HSF can be accessed here.

Yeosu MBC news (3 Nov 2020):

Yonhap News Agency (2 Nov 2020):

Moodeung Ilbo (3 Nov 2020):

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