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Saemangeun reclamation project, South Korea


Saemangeum Seawall was built in a tidal flat zone on the Yellow Sea (The world's second largest tidal flat). The seawall is 33 miles long. At an opening ceremony, incumbent president Lee, Myung-Bak has commented that Saemangeum would be “. . . the kernel and the gateway of South Korea’s west coast industrial belt,” and is “another effort by us for low-carbon and green growth, along with the four-river project.” [1] The barrier was then used to reclaim land by filling.The newly reclaimed land to be used for industrial activity (the region has little), golf courses and water treatment plants.

Free economic zone was established to promote business activity. It provoked a major conflict between the government and environmentalist concerned about many impacts, especially related to biodiversity and the problematic effect it has on a major migratory bird problem. It also had significant impact on aquaculture and fisheries and those affected were involved in the protests.

“Saemangeum case sued by local people and NGOs in 2001 had shown rise and fall during the legal proceedings appealed. The compromise suggestion proposed by the court lost the authority due to the refusal to accept it by the government. The Administrative Court ruled the partial winning for the plaintiff (local people and NGOs) on February 4, 2005, but the Higher Court dismissed the original decision and gave losing to the plaintiff on December 21, 2005. Finally, the Supreme Court concluded Saemangeum case to raise a hand of the defendant (the government) on March 16, 2006.”

President Lee was a former CEO of a Hyundai Engineering & Construction company; local people are not surprised about his support of the project. Mainly NGOs, experts and religious groups have carried out civil movement against this project since 1999.

Although civil movement outside of Saemangeum area was strong, the effort and practice of local people in Saemangeum area were relatively weak, however. Recognizing that it is difficult to refuse bravely the public work made most of local people think of the project as inevitable. Majority of local people already received the financial compensation from the government and believed that the Saemangeum project would develop their local economy.

The Seawall was begun in 1999 with various delays and it was not completed until 2010. The seawall is slightly longer than the Zuidesee Seawall in the Netherlands.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Saemangeun reclamation project, South Korea
Country:Republic of Korea
State or province:Jaellabuk-do
Location of conflict:Saemangeun
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Wetlands and coastal zone management
Specific commodities:Biological resources

Project Details and Actors

Project details

the reclaimed area is approximately 400km2 which will be used for agricultura, industrial activities and sporting/receational activities such as golf. The seawall reduced the coastline from 100kms to 33 kms.

Project area:400km2
Level of Investment:$3,000,000,000.00
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:Buan County, Jeollabuk-do (province)
Start of the conflict:01/06/1999
End of the conflict:01/06/2010
Relevant government actors:Government of South Korea
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Korean Federation of Environmental Movements (basically FoE). Also grass-roots and local environmental groups. Fisherman and related (aquaculture) Birdskorea, FASS project

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Social movements
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow)
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despite activism and much organised protest since 1998 the seawall was built.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

For A Sustainable Saemangeum (FASS) - Final Report -

Article: Ku, D., The Korean Environmental Movement: Green Politics through Social Movement Korea Journal Vol. 44, Nº 3, Autumn 2004.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

New York Times 24. 10. 2008

The Daily Telegraph 12. 05. 2007

Reuters. 10. 2008

[1] Natural Resources

Lee says Saemangeum tidal flat to change S. Korea's history

Meta information

Contributor:Louis Lemkow
Last update26/06/2014



View on the Saemangeum tidal flat