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Lying between mainland China and the Korean peninsula, the Yellow Sea is one of the world's largest areas of continental shelf covered in shallow water, providing for rich fishing grounds and an important site for migratory birds. But decades of pollution is turning the sea to a colour other than yellow.

Fishing in the mudflats of the Yellow Sea, Jeollanam-do, South Korea. rel= © WWF-Japan

A yellow sea...
The rivers that flow into the Yellow Sea carry so much mineral-rich soil that the water actually turns yellow.

With China to the west and North and South Korea to the east, the Yellow Sea is also unique in that it is a relatively semi-enclosed body of water and its average depths are only 60-80m.

Taking advantage of these extremely shallow waters are dugongs, porpoises, marine turtles and rich fish life, including Pacific herring, Japanese mackerel and cod.

It is also home to many endemic waterbirds and invertebrates.

...turns brown

But industrial pollution, agricultural runoff and domestic sewage continue to contaminate the Yellow Sea's coastal waters and habitats.

Overfishing and habitat loss are other serious threats facing the region. About 40% of the sea's tidal flats have been reclaimed in the last 50-100 years

WWF and its partners are working to keep the sea "yellow" by protecting its biodiversity and through the sustainable development of its natural resources.

This is happening through a number of conservation projects, including the creation of marine protected areas.
A fiddler crab along the shore of the Yellow Sea in Korea. 
© istockphoto / lionBeat
A fiddler crab along the shore of the Yellow Sea in Korea.
© istockphoto / lionBeat

A bird sanctuary

The intertidal mudflats of the Yellow Sea are of great importance for migratory waders and shorebirds.

The Bei Dagang Nature Reserve on the Yellow Sea is an important winter ground for migrating birds. Tianjin Province, China. © WWF
Surveys show that the region is the single most important site for migratory birds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, with millions of birds passing through each year.

This includes Dalmatian pelicans (Pelecanus crispus), black-faced spoonbills (Platalea minor) and little gulls (Larus minor). It is also a key breeding area for the threatened Saunders’ gull (Larus saundersi).
A dugong grazing on sea grass. Indo-Pacific Ocean.

© WWF / Jürgen Freund

Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), Turkey.

© WWF / Michel Gunther

Where is the Yellow Sea?
The Yellow Sea is highlighted below in purple.

View WWF Critical Regions of the World in a larger map

Facts & Figures

  • The Yellow Sea Marine Ecoregion includes the Yellow Sea, Bohai Sea and part of the East China Sea.
  • The Yellow Sea covers approximately 40,000km2.
  • Average depths are 60-80 metres.
  • Some 1,600 species have been reported from the Sea's marine and coastal habitats, including 170 species of waterbirds.
  • Between the 1960s and 1980s, fish and invertebrate populations declined by an estimated 40%, with cold-water species such as Pacific cod becoming almost commercially extinct.
  • About 600 million people live in the Yellow Sea catchment area, with over a dozen urban areas with populations over one million people.
  • The Yellow Sea receives annually more than 1.6 billion tons of sediments, mostly from the Yellow River (Huang He) and Yangtze River.