Sunday, July 29, 2007

Junam environment camp

Emily, Jeff, Tabitha and I trucked on down the country to Changwon city and neighboring Junam reservoir for the second English environment education camp for middle school students. 27 students, 8 Korean and 8 foreign volunteers got together to put on this camp, organized by our group - Birds Korea, the Ministry of Environment and the UNDP, whose officer in charge of the camp was Ms. Hong Su-yeon.

Jeff's team listens for their 5 sounds.

For these students, it was something completely different and a chance to get closer to the natural environment so easily forgotten or ignored these days. Breaking them into 6 groups and with one foreign and one Korean team leader each, we enjoyed a variety of activities and exercises.
Tabitha's team finds leaves to draw.

The first day saw us outside almost immediately, doing a natural treasure hunt, where they had to find and draw 5 leaves and 3 insects, find 3 different coloured flowers, and describe 5 sounds they heard. After that it was birdwatching time at Junam, both in the rice fields and at the man-made reservoir itself.
One group birds around the rice fields in the heat of the day.

Making things much less pleasant than the February camp at Upo was the 33 degrees heat, high humidity and glaring sun. That combined with the general lack of birds (summer is the least productive birding season in Korea) made for some challenging outings.
End of day discussions and thoughts at Changwon University.

The students then had to make and Eco-map of the area, complete with habitat areas, where different birds were and areas in which they noticed problems such as disturbance or pollution.
Eco-map making at the Junam Education center.
We ended Sunday with an activity in which they each had a different focus (home, school, world) but had to make a list of 5 things they could do to help protect the environment and help stop the rising species extinction rate. After half an hour, it was amazing and gratifying to hear what suggestions they came up with - truly amazing coming from kids who have never thought about these things in this way before!!

For us, too, it was a rewarding experience, not only in that we were able to see students outside of the classroom, but to teach them about something that matters to us all - the protection and conservation of the environment around us. As Emily and I are leaving, it's out last in Korea, but who knows what opportunities for this kind of thing await for us back home?

Only two more weeks to go - split by a weekend of camping with Cody and Karen, then we're off to Mongolia to start this trip we've been seemingly planning for years! Hope you're all well:)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Busy days . . .

As our time winds down ever quicker, we seem to be getting busier and busier trying to tie up loose ends that we've accumulated over the past three years. We sent home 5 boxes full of worldly possessions last week (sorry Murray and Ryley;) with more to come this week. Emily sent off our passports today to apply for Mongolian and Indian visas, to arrive the day before our departure (is that too blase?) Our teaching days are down to 13 while our weekends have dwindled to three. One of them, the next one, we will again be taking part in an English Education camp for Middle school students.
This marked the first time the Korean volunteers birdwatched!

This time around, Tabitha and Jeff (both staff members) will be joining Nial, Emily and I as we aim to increase the environmental/ecological education of youth in this country. The last camp was a huge success, and we hope this one, again with 30 students, goes off well too. One thing that will make it much easier is the high level of English that the Korean volunteers have. This past weekend, we had a workshop together with them and had a chance to see the sites we'll be using. We';ll have a mixture of vocab-building activities, games and birdwatching time with the students, who stay overnight at the University we're based at (luckily, we get to head out and stay in a local hotel!) It will be something completely different for these kids! Should be great!

The summer lushness of this country always amazes us, after the long brown of winter

The weekend following, its back to our favourite camp site for our last weekend with our favourite camping couple, Cody and Karen, before they head to Kamloops (yes Sean, you're dream is slowly coming true - everyone's going to Kamloops!) and we head the opposite direction. After that its one more weekend with family and we're off on the 14th, providing our passports return when they're supposed to, with visas they're supposed to have in them! Will post again after this weekend's camp . . .

Emily spotting the Great Egret hiding in the rice paddies - can you spot it?

Take care and keep your emails coming - we're enjoying your updates:)

Monday, July 9, 2007

Nice work on the emails!

Over 40 letters from Canadians have now been sent to the South Korean ambassador in Ottawa. Nice work! Similar letters are rolling along in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., South Korea itself (being sent to the Ramsar Convention organizer) and, soon, England. The next 6 countries will fall into place over the coming months as we find translators and experts from those countries to help us write them. Now that the initial energy has been expelled, we need to find ways to get this site published on large lists/websites in Canada to spread the word. If any of you have connections to non-governmental environmental organizations and think that they would possibly post such information on their web page, please try and pass this information on. Andy Henderson has already contacted Global Response, in addition to Birds Korea doing so previously. We are going to email the David Suzuki Foundation, as well as Canada Bird Studies. Any avenues that may lead to a spread of this knowledge are worth looking into! Thanks for all your help, and enjoy reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:))

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Restore Saemangeum!

30% of the world's Great Knot used Saemangeum.
What does their future hold without our help?

As I mentioned in our last email out, I have been working with Birds Korea on a project (Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program) that aims at assessing the damage of the Saemangeum reclamation project on migratory shorebirds. Through it, the true importance of this site for humans, birds, fish and benthos (the organisms that live in the tidal mud) has come to the fore. The 33 km-long wall has been closed now for over a year, with only two 500 m-long sluice gates opening and closing, allowing fresh water to come in, and stagnant water to leave. The difference between last year's bird counts before and just after the wall was completed and this year's counts was stunning. The drop, as we expected, was huge. The Great Knot, pictured above, dropped from a peak count of 88,000 birds in 2006 to just over 3,000 birds in 2007. You read that correctly - a 96% decline by the very next spring migration!

This picture below was taken this May, inside the wall - that dry mud may never see salt water again, and the organisms in it, the birds and 25,000 humans whose jobs were lost due to the ongoing reclamation, are all adversely affected by this crime, which in itself breaks international treaties, such as Ramsar, which South Korea has signed. However, there is something we can do to reverse this situation . . .

An email campaign has started, found at this site:

where you can go, click on your home country and by simply typing your name, email address and home city, you can send a pre-written letter to your country's South Korean ambassador, urging him to keep the two sluice gates open at all times, thereby allowing life-giving tides to rush back in to this dying ecosystem the size of Singapore, and hopefully restoring some of what has been already lost. We also want to protect neighbouring Geum Estuary, now the number one site for migrating shorebirds in the Yellow Sea.

In a nation where seafood is one of the top diets, and where over 200,000 shorebirds come to refuel, these fields of thousands of dead shells are heartbreaking to find.

Rarely do we get an opportunity to help a cause that someone we know is working for. This is it. Please help us send out 40,000 emails to the ambassadors of your home countries, one email for every hectare the South Korean government is killing with this plan, still with no clear end-use. Help 25,000 people's livelihoods. Help the tired shorebirds in need of fuel and rest and the millions of organisms trapped inside the wall who are on a silent march to death. Help us do something to protect this fragile part of our earth. Thank you!!!