Despite being closed to most foreigner visitors, North Korea may ironically be the saviour of one of the world’s greatest international migration routes – the avian East Asian Australasian Flyway.
Fifty million birds, from cranes to song birds, journey along the Flyway twice a year. Eight million of those are shorebirds – or waders.
And for many thousands of those, North Korea’s west coast – on the Yellow Sea – is their sole stop-off point.
North Korea’s coast is considered so important because the shorelines of neighbouring nations – China and South Korea – have witnessed rapid and large-scale reclamation projects.
Mudflats have been converted to dry land for agriculture and industrial development.
Of the total area of Yellow Sea mudflat habitat which existed 50 years ago, only one third remains – according to shorebird ecology expert Richard Fuller of the University of Queensland, Australia.
North Korea’s lack of development – compared to China and South Korea – means the country’s mudflats are largely intact.
But conservationists say the birds also benefit from there being fewer river-polluting factories, and lower levels of agricultural fertilisers and pesticides running off the land into the marine environment.
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photo: Adrian Riegan