Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

How researchers co-opted a remote village to save rare fish

July 27, 2014

An attempt by villagers and wildlife enthusiasts to save a rare fish from extinction is a rare ray of hope amid the gloom of the gradual loss of biodiversity.

Last week, ignoring blood-sucking leeches, dozens of volunteers got their hands dirty and pants wet on the muddy banks of the Galapitamada stream, known to be the only habitat of the critically endangered Bandula Barb. They cleaned the stream and planted ketala aquatic plants on the edges of the stream to enhance the breeding habitat and give much-needed protection for this small fish.

Bandula Barb (Pethia Bandula) is one of the rarest and most endangered fish in Sri Lanka as it can only be found in a 2.5km stretch of a small stream in the Kegalle district. Their present count is just over 1000, so the threat to their existence is enormous.The habitat rehabilitation work held last Sunday was organised by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with the assistance of the Toyota Environmental Fund. This two-year project began in 2013 in accordance with the Bandula Barb Recovery Plan drafted by the Sri Lanka Biodiversity Secretariat of Ministry of Environment in 2007, looking into empowering the villagers to conserve the fish as the area is totally outside any protected areas. Habitat enrichment and the introduction of the fish into other habitats are part of this Conservation Plan, being implemented under the guidance of Professor Devaka Weerakoon.

The data on the drastic decline of Bandula Barb emerged through research carried out by Hasula Wickremasinghe in 2003 as part of her MSc research. In 1991, the fish “catch rate” – a technique used to measure fish population – as 15-100 but in 2003 it sank to 0–5. This is an 80 per cent decline of the population. Ms. Wickremasinghe and Sampath Goonathilake, prepared the Bandula Barb recovery plan under the guidance of Prof. Weerakoon.

In May 2013, a total of 598 Bandula Barbs were found. This number increased to 1073 in December that year, raising hopes that the species can recover but more work has to be done to get the population stable, according to experts.

The volunteers of the Aquatic group of the Young Zoologists Association (YZA) were the leading force behind last Sunday’s activities. The team planted native trees along the stream bank together with the participation of the villagers. As the climate in the area is expected to be drier with repercussions of climate change, it is hoped these trees could provide a lifeline to the stream, keeping it from going dry.

This stream in which the Bandula Barb lives flows between paddy fields and rubber estates so the agro-chemicals used in the paddy fields have become the main threat to their survival.

“So the IUCN tried to convince the villagers of the importance of turning to organic farming. We linked them with an organization supporting organic paddy cultivation and we are happy that the paddy fields adjacent to the stream areas turned into organic cultivation areas where agro-chemicals are not used,” said Naalin Perera, IUCN Programme officer, Biodiversity, pointing to the lush paddy fields.

The IUCN also organized a workshop on freshwater fish for the village youths. This included a field visit to Kithulgala to observe the freshwater fish and methods of observation as well as techniques of counting.

The village youths became involved in the counting of number of Bandula Pethia in the stream in a survey conducted in December last year. A total of 1073 fish were recorded, an encouraging result for the conservation team. Mr. Perera also commended the enthusiasm shown by the village youth on learning more details about the freshwater fish.

The IUCN team has also reintroduced a population of Bandula Pethia to an isolated area close to Galapitamada. A wall was built under the project to prevent Bandula Barb being washed into the nearby paddy fields during heavy rains. The IUCN hopes the the effort to save the Bandula Barb from extinction will be successful.

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/140727/news/how-researchers-co-opted-a-remote-village-to-save-rare-fish-108595.html 

Bandula Barb

The Bandula Barb was discovered in 1991 by Rohan Pethiyagoda. Communicating through email, the expert on fish reveals that he first saw the Bandula Barb in an aquarium at the home of Rodney Jonklaas around 1987. Mr. Jonklass named the fish Bandula Barb because these specimen were given by Ranjith Bandula, an ornamental fish collector.

Mr. Jonklass thought it was a subspecies of the fish we now know as Pethia reval, or that it was a hybrid between Pethia reval and Pethia nigrofasciatus, the so-called Bulath Hapaya. Both those species too, occur in the same Kelani River basin as the Bandula Barb.
However, Mr.Pethiyagoda realised that that this could be a new species and his research with Maurice Kottelat ended in recognising the fish as a valid new species to science. This was later confirmed in 2012 through DNA analysis done by Dr. Madhava Meegaskumbura at Peradeniya University.

Mr. Pethiyagoda said no one knew the reasons for this fish having such a narrow ecological niche. “It is certainly unusual given that there is apparently nothing to prevent the species from dispersing further down the stream,” he added.

‘At first, we were suspicious’

“We are proud to have Bandula Pethia in the village as the fish made our quiet hamlet a famous place. Lots of people and collectors visited our village after getting to know the importance of this fish, but we haven’t allowed anyone to steal the fish,” said Ranjith Amarasiri, a villager who works with the researchers. “Even our children are protective of the fish and don’t allow outsiders to take them out,” Ranjith said, sharing a story of how a village child protested when outsiders tried to take away a specimen of Bandula Barb.

It is the vigilance of the villagers that helped the Bandula Barb to survive through these difficult times where exploitation, invasive species and pollution threatens Sri Lanka’s freshwater fauna.

“When I first visited Gapapitamada in 1987/88 the local people had no idea this fish existed or that it was special,” said Rohan Pethiyagoda who described the fish scientifically.

“They were initially strangers and didn’t say anything to us,” said Sarath Weerakkody, a villager who initially helped to build the link between villagers and conservationists. “When they combed the stream and started to catch fish we grew suspicious. Some youth who became angry and even threw stones at these researchers. But they came and explained to us about the fish and we also began to realise the importance of the fish,” said Mr. Weerakkody.

The effort of the villagers of Elpitiya, Hapudoda and Rabbidigala to prevent the extinction of the Bandula Barb could be a unique conservation model to protect Sri Lanka’s biodiversity.

Wallapatta agarwood the new illegal million-rupee racket

February 16, 2014

An attempt to smuggle out wallapatta agarwood worth Rs. 12 million was prevented by vigilant Customs officers last week.

The offender had 16.8kg of the substance concealed in his baggage, Samantha Gunasekara of the Customs Biodiversity Protection Unit said. It had been cleaned and considered to be grade 1 quality. The offender was at Bandaranaike International Airport to board a Bangalore-bound flight. Preliminary investigations revealed that he was only a carrier, and investigations are underway to find the source of the agarwood.

Agarwood is a product of the wild tree, wallapatta, and it is illegal to own or take out a forest product without permission but because of its high value criminals collect and export it illegally. Wallapatta is scientifically classified as a sub-canopy tree growing in wet zone forests as well as in home gardens in these areas. The tree creates a resin called agarwood in its core as a reaction to a fungal infection, and this is used as a base for perfumes.

Perfumes produced using agarwood are expensive because of the resin’s scarcity, so a wave of illegal felling of wallapatta has been reported, several dozen cases from different parts of Sri Lanka in the first weeks of 2014.

In the latest case, Morontuduwa police arrested three men for cutting down a wallapatta tree and transporting in a van. Because the agarwood has to be exported illegally, stringent measures have to be put in place to nab the offenders who mastermind this racket.

Only some wallapatta trees affected by fungi manufacture the agarwood resin. Since there is no way to detect whether a wallapatta tree is secreting agarwood, trees are being felled indiscriminately for quick profits. Prof. Nimal Gunatilleke, who has studied the growth of wallapatta, warns that extensive removal of large mature trees could affect the survival of wild wallapatta trees, already categorised as “vulnerable” to extinction on the National RedList.

Prof. Gunatilleke points out that investigation of the tree’s reproductive ecology and low-cost propagation methods of wallapatta were needed to restore the growth of the tree in the forest and to increase domestic growth to reduce pressure on this rapidly dwindling natural resource. The Director General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) said regulations to protect wallapatta have been drafted. He said the cultivation of wallapatta would be encouraged under stringent monitoring conditions.

Published on SundayTimes on 16.02.2014 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/140216/news/wallapatta-agarwood-the-new-illegal-million-rupee-racket-85990.html 

Sri Lanka’s Spiny Eel has slipped away, maybe forever

November 6, 2013

The Sri Lanka Spiny Eel, a freshwater fish that was common in the early ’80s is probably now extinct. This was revealed by Prof.Devake Weerakoon delivering a talk on the Red List, at an event organised by the Open University’s Botany society.  Sri Lanka is home to six species of eel known as ‘aandha’ in Sinhala, given its slippery, slimy nature. The threatened species, the Spiny eel, is scientifically known as Macrognathus pentophthalmos.

Sri Lanka spiny eel’s relative – Marbled Spiny Eel (gan theliya) – WILL THIS SPINY EEL TOO FOLLOW ITS RELATIVE (c) Nadika Hapuarachchie

The Sri Lanka Spiny Eel was categorised as a common freshwater fish endemic to Sri Lanka in studies done in 1932 and 1980. But an islandwide freshwater fish survey conducted by researcher Rohan Pethiyagoda in 1991 failed to record even a single specimen of this eel. This prompted the Wildlife Heritage Trust in 1992 to print an illustrated ‘wanted’ poster that was displayed at leading ornamental fish export companies and inland fisheries centres islandwide offering a reward to anyone who spotted even a single specimen of the Sri Lanka Spiny Eel and another fish that had suffered a similar fate, Labeo Lankae. There were no positive results regarding the sighting of the Spiny Eel and in 2008 Dr. Pethiyagoda published a scientific paper that analysed the fate of this fresh water species.

The Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle (WCSG) is currently conducting an islandwide fresh water fish survey. But that too has so far failed to collect any data on the Sri Lanka Spiny Eel, Nadika Hapuarachchie of the society said. The Sri Lanka Spiny Eel was categorised as ‘Critically Endangered’ in 1994 and based on the results of latest surveys, the National Red list of Sri Lanka published in December last year reclassified the species as “Possibly Extinct”.

The Sri Lanka Spiny Eel has a slender body like other eels and has got its name for its sturdy fin spine. Another member of this family, the Marbled Spiny Eel (Mastacembelus armatus) is still a commonly found fish. But environmentalists point out that even the population of this common species can dwindle suddenly and regular monitoring is needed to evaluate its threatened levels.

Sri Lanka is known for its rich and diverse freshwater fish comprising 91 species of which 50 are endemic. Sampath Goonatilake of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) who has written a chapter on freshwater fish in the National Redlist says that arguably this is the most vulnerable taxonomic group as most of the threatened or endemic freshwater species are found in streams that lie outside the Protected Area Network of Sri Lanka. These habitats are vulnerable to various threats such as forest clearance, gem mining, expanding agriculture, large and small scale hydro projects, exposure to chemical pollutants including agrochemicals and sedimentation due to soil erosion, he said.

Meanwhile, according to the global Redlist 2009, Sri Lanka is placed 14th in terms of percentage numbers of threatened species. This is not good news given that Sri Lanka is a global biodiversity hot spot.

Invasive species big threat 

Invasive fish such as the Thilapila that have been introduced are behind the decline of Sri Lanka’s native freshwater fish. The knife fish (Thilapila) brought to Sri Lanka for aquarium trade has been reportedly introduced in water holes and streams in many areas. A giant knife fish was caught last week at a water hole in Boralasgamuwa.  Praki Bandara who captured this image says the fish weighed more than seven kilograms. 

The Knife Fish is a carnivore’s species that feeds on other smaller fish and their eggs. They are native to South East Asia. The knife fish is a popular aquarium fish because of its rapid growth. When they outgrow fish tanks some people release them to natural waterways, not giving heed to its detrimental effects on the population of other fish. There are instances where knife fish are washed away into natural water holes especially when ground fish tanks overflow due to flooding. Environmentalists urge the public not to release this species of invasive fish into natural waterways as they are harmful to native fish. 

Eel – the slippery freshwater fish

It’s a slippery, slimy creature, and doesn’t fit into the image of what one perceives as freshwater fish. But the eel is a regular fish – that doesn’t look like one. It has a serpentlike head and a snakelike body. The Eel’s body is elongated and flexible. When it swims, it moves in a series of waves. These waves cause each segment of the eel’s body to oscillate in a figure-of-eight. This movement causes the eel to be propelled forward in the water.

According to studies there are about 800 eel species that inhabit freshwater and marine habitats. A majority of eel species are nocturnal. Globally there has been a drastic decline in the numbers of eel species. A research in UK revealed that the European Eel population in the River Thames had fallen by 98% in just five years. This decline could be due to changes in oceanic currents due to climate change, man-made structures such as dams and the presence of certain diseases and parasites, the study revealed.

Another Black Leopard killed in Deniyaya

October 16, 2013
The tragic killing of another black leopard highlights the need for greater conservation – By Malaka Rodrigo 

Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’ refers to a black panther, Bagheera. This was really a black leopard and even though Badheera was fictitious, black leopards do exist. But are their days numbered in Sri Lanka, is the question that many wildlife enthusiasts pose.

Brutal end: The carcass of the black leopard. Photo Credit: Rukshan Jayewardene 

Another black leopard faced a brutal death in Deniyaya a few days back. Its decomposing body was recovered from a forest patch close to Handford Estate, in the village of Thalapalakanda.

Veterinary surgeon Dr.Tharaka Prasad who conducted the post-mortem said the animal would have died an agonising death after succumbing to internal wounds sustained on getting caught in a wire snare. Poachers had cut off both its forelimbs and a large portion of flesh from its neck area. Even the teeth and claws of the remaining limbs of this black beauty had not been spared.

Wildlife officers were however puzzled that no attempt was made to skin the animal as its coat would have fetched a high price. They believe the animal would have got caught in a trap set for wild boars. But conservationist and leopard researcher, Rukshan Jayawardane who went to the site with Dr. Prasad said the trap may have been set up deliberately to snare the black leopard – or other leopards that frequent the area. He has urged police to find the culprits. There is a local belief that leopard flesh taken from an area that cannot be licked by the animal is good for asthma patients and wearing its claws and teeth a sign of bravery.

Kokila Harindra, wildlife range officer of Kaluthota who was alerted by Deniyaya police said villagers had complained about the stench from a rotting carcass of a leopard. He said the villagers had not spotted the black leopard before. The animal was a mature male leopard about 7 foot long, Mr. Harindra said.

Dense forest: Safer habitat for rare black leopard

In 2009, a black leopard was entrapped in a wire trap in the vicinity of Deniyaya. A few years ago there was was a report of the death of another black leopard in the area of Sinharaja.  Dr. Prasad said in the past six years the Department of Wildlife Conservation received reports of 16 leopard deaths in and around Sinharaja.

The fact that of them three were black leopards means there could be more in the area, Dr.Prasad said adding that they were initiating a study on these rare species. Childers Jayawardane, a wildlife officer wrote about sighting a black leopard as far back as 1948 in Yala Block III. He also recalled seeing another black leopard at Banawalkema 30 years later.

However, black leopard sightings have not been recorded recently in the dry zone, and it is believed that the darker environs of a dense forest helps the black leopard to survive, says Rukshan Jayawardane. Pointing out that there maybe more leopards outside the protected wildlife areas he pointed out that conservation programmes should encompass these areas too.

Anjali Watson – a leopard researcher who has studied leopards in the wet zone and the hill country says the biggest threat to leopards in general and the rare black species is the lack of protected areas in the wet zone and hill countries unlike in the dry zone. As a result habitat fragmentation, poaching and indirect snaring can go unnoticed.

She said black leopards even in other countries are found mainly in dense forest areas. The reason being the darker and more secluded habitat of rain forests allow a melanistic leopard to survive more easily and reproduce, passing on the recessive gene of melanism. In the dry zone where the habitat is more open they are less likely to survive into adulthood.

Who are these black beauties? 

The black leopard belongs to the same species of leopards found in Sri Lanka, scientifically known as Panthera pardus kotiya. This species has been tagged as ‘Endangered’ by Red List 2012.

What differentiates a black leopard from a normal leopard is its black coat that is a result of a condition called melanism where the dark-coloured pigment melanin in the skin develops. This is similar to the condition of an albino where the absence of melanin makes an animal lighter coloured. 

Zoologists say this is caused by a melanistic recessive gene and on close inspection the usual leopard spots are visible even on a black leopard. Scientists also say two leopards with normal coats have a one-in-four chance of producing a black-coated cub, if both mother and father have the recessive trait for melanistic form. Other big cats such as jaguars who have this melanistic form are commonly referred to as black panthers.

Published on 06.10.2013 on SundayTimes http://www.sundaytimes.lk/131006/news/dark-secrets-of-a-black-beauty-64892.html 

Operation starfish to save reef

October 7, 2013
Volunteers dive at Pigeon Island to protect the corals from a carnivorous predator – Malaka Rodrigo 

Armed with improvised spears, the team clad in scuba gear, were submerged in the clear waters off Pigeon Island. Seeing an area where corals were destroyed, they descended like sharks that had spotted their prey. Taking aim, they speared the starfish that was the cause of the destruction.

The thorny interloper: Starfish that have been removed from the coral reef 

Pigeon Island is one of Sri Lanka’s two Marine National Parks and it is prohibited to hunt any creature in this sanctuary. But Wildlife Officers too supported this mission as the ‘Crown of Thorn Starfish’ are extremely destructive to the corals, feeding on the microorganism polyps that build them. According to marine biologists, the number of COT in the Pigeon Island reef began increasing last year exceeding the threshold of their natural occurrence, hence the need for action to control the damage.

“We came to know about the outbreak at Pigeon Island and as conservation oriented underwater explorers, we wanted to organise a programme to remove the COTs on Pigeon Island Coral Reef,” Upekshi Perera, President of the Sub Aqua Club said.

It was no easy task as some of these creatures are hidden inside the corals. The starfish also has protective thorns that are venomous. The recommended method of removing the COTs is by injecting Sodium bi-sulphate using syringes with long needles, but the team had to come up with other methods.

Travice Ondatje of Nilaweli Beach Hotel who is also a member of Sub Aqua Club was the mastermind behind creating the team’s main weapon – the ‘broomstick spear’. “It was simply a broomstick with a five millimetre steel rod (used for concrete) tied to one end,” Travice said. The team had taken time to learn how to manoeuvre the improvised spear.

The team comprised 12 divers from the Sub Aqua Club and three from the Ypsylon Dive Centre that also provided some of the dive equipment. Forming three teams, they had done two dives – each taking one and half hours. Teams moved in semi circles inspecting the corals on the southern part of the reef. One diver held ‘plastic laundry bins’ to collect the starfish speared by the other members.

The team fills up buckets of Crown of Thorn starfish

At the end of the day, the team had removed 181 Crown of Thorn Starfishes – double the number we thought we could achieve, said Dharshana Jayawardane, dive officer of Sub Aqua Club. The density of the COT on top of stag horn corals was more, he added.

Dr. Malik Fernando, an expert on Sri Lanka’s marine life and founder member of the Sub Aqua Club said there are COT outbreaks once in a while and intervention is required to manage them. Coral ecologist Arjan Rajasuriya praised the work done by the Sub Aqua Club members highlighting the need for such an exercise annually. Government agencies should organise a programme to facilitate volunteers as diving is a costly exercise, he said.

The worst outbreaks were in the 1970s and early 80s. Not only the East coast, but many other areas too have been infested and thousands of COTs had been removed under the guidance of Dr. de Bruin, a Research Officer attached to the Department of Fisheries, Mr. Rajasuriya said.

Mr. Rajasuriya said that there can be various reasons for a COT outbreak. More nutrients in the water and removal of fish that prey on COT and also the warming oceans could provide optimal conditions for COT larvae to thrive.

Upekshi further added that Pigeon Island is a tourist attraction and unless we take care of such habitats, there will be nothing to showcase in time to come. She was grateful for the support that Nilaweli Beach Hotel and Ypsylon Dive Centre gave them. The Sub Aqua Club is planning to do this as an annual event, she said, happy that they had done their bit for Pigeon Island.

Coral monitoring programme needed

According to IUCN Red Data, Corals are one of the most threatened species in the world. Corals are useful for many reasons even in breaking the power of unexpected sea surges such as a Tsunami.  Some years ago NARA had a coral- monitoring programme and NARA chairman Dr. Sayuru Samarasundara said the agency plans to re-commence it next year.

Know the enemy

The crown-of-thorns (Acanthasterplanci) receives its name from venomous thorn-like spines that cover its upper surface like the crown of thorns placed on the head of Jesus. An adult starfish can grow up to 35 cm (14 in). They usually have 21 arms but this number can change from population to population, points out Arjan Rajasuriya.

Their spines are stiff and very sharp. The adult crown-of-thorns is a carnivorous predator that usually preys on reef coral polyps. It climbs onto a section of living coral using its large number of tube feet and flexible body and fits closely to the surface of the coral, even the complex surfaces of branching corals. It then extrudes its stomach out through its mouth over the surface to virtually its own diameter. 

The stomach surface secretes digestive enzymes that allows the starfish to absorb nutrients from the liquefied coral tissue. This leaves a white scar on the coral skeleton which is rapidly infested with filamentous algae. 

An individual starfish can consume up to six square metres (65 sqft) of living coral reef per year according to Wikipedia.

published on SundayTimes on 06.10.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/131006/plus/operation-starfish-to-save-reef-64660.html

Indian govt. floats Sethusamudram Canal project again ?

September 18, 2013

The controversial Sethusamudram Canal project is back on the Indian government’s agenda under pressure from some Tamil Nadu Political parties such as the DMK the Indian Media reported recently. This in turn has raised concern among environmentalists in Sri Lanka.

The project aims at shortening the sea route between India and Sri Lanka by dredging the canal as the sea is not deep enough for ships to navigate. Environmentalists are concerned that the project will destroy Adam’s Bridge, a natural chain of limestone shoals. According to the Hindu epic Ramayana the bridge also known as Ram Sethu was built by Prince Rama’s monkey army led by Hanuman. The project was started in 2005, but soon got into troubled waters as both environmentalists and many Hindu political parties such as the Hindu nationalist party BJP opposed it.

SethusamudramGraphicEnvironmentalists point out that the project would be detrimental as it would disturb the Gulf of Mannar one of the world’s richest marine biodiversity spots. The Indian side of the Gulf of Mannar is already a Marine National Park that was recognised as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve (MAB) in 1989. Research is underway to declare Sri Lanka’s side too as an MAB.

The proximity of the maritime boundary suggests that Sri Lanka must be wary of trans-boundary effects of the Sethusamudram canal, NARA founder chairman and specialist on Marine Affairs in the region Dr. Hiran Jayewardene has warned.

He points out that continuous dredging would result in soil being deposited on the bottom habitats such as coral and sea grass beds. Dr.Jayewardena also highlighted the need to conduct our own research in the area to get a better understanding of its ecological characteristics.

The Indian Supreme Court issued a ruling to suspend the operations, but according to Indian media, the central government was planning to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court to get the green light for the project.

This was is in spite of the R.K. Pachauri Committee, appointed by the government after the Supreme Court asked the government to explore an alternative route, pointing in its report that the project was not viable, the Indian media reported.

Let’s solve environment problems together, says expert

Dr.Hiran Jayewardene has called for a joint scientific body between India and Sri Lanka to protect the biodiversity of the Gulf of Mannar and its surrounding areas. Pointing out that some of the issues such as the problem of Tamil Nadu fishermen poaching in Sri Lankan waters using bottom trawlers resulting in the destruction of marine habitat and the Sethusamudram project had political implications for both countries and science may be able to provide an answer to these complex issues.

“A jointly managed regime with required conservation concerns may be a way out. This would allow scientists on both sides to work together to address and understand the environment allowing for sustainable use. Confidence building and finding alternative approaches such as conservation and ecotourism that can bring added value and much needed development alternatives to the area could be achieved through such a joint effort,” he said. 

Published on the SundayTimes 15.09.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130915/news/indian-govt-floats-sethusamudram-canal-project-again-62290.html

 

Not only milk powder; mind about hidden poison in vegetables too..!!

August 26, 2013
Study shows farmers overuse pesticides; calls for speedy action and monitoring scheme Some cultivators grow pesticide-free vegetable for their consumption – by Malaka Rodrigo 

Reports of dicyandiamide (DCD) and whey protein allegedly found in milk powder have sparked widespread panic among consumers, but little do they know that vegetables they consume are equally if not more contaminated, according to a recent study on the use of agrochemicals by farmers.

The report based on an extensive survey in the upcountry says that although it has been advised that farmers should not use any chemicals 14 days prior to the harvesting of vegetables, some farmers do not follow this safety rule. Some 30% of upcountry farmers apply pesticides until 7-10 days before harvesting although some of them knew the harmful effects of agrochemicals, the report prepared by the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute (HARTI) says.

Fit for human consumption? Vegetable plots in Nuwara Eliya

In a shocking revelation, the report also says that about a quarter of the famers surveyed maintain agrochemical-free vegetable plots for their own consumption.  This dual approach adopted by these farmers, the report says, raises the question whether they are knowingly poisoning the consumers.

The report emphasises the urgent need to monitor pesticide residues in vegetables in the market.  The report titled “HARTI Policy Brief on Minimising the Damages of Pesticides” is based on a field research conducted in the Badulla and Nuwara Eliya Districts among 240 randomly selected vegetable and potato farmers.

Only the main hill country crops potato, bean, leeks and cabbage were handpicked for the investigation by the HARTI researchers; but the outcome has been scary.  Drawing attention to recent findings that linked the excessive use of agrochemicals by paddy farmers to the mystery Chronic Kidney Disease in the North Central Province, the report notes that vegetable also could contain arsenic and other harmful residues of agrochemicals.

The research also highlights the ignorance of farmers who overuse or misuse agrochemicals. According to the survey, nearly half of the upcountry famers apply pesticide as a precautionary measure even before any appearance of symptoms of pests or disease.
“The upcountry’s misty wet environment makes vegetable plants prone to pest attacks and fungal diseases. Farmers take their own decisions as to what pesticide to use and how frequently it should be used. Usually they end up in spraying an overdose,” said M.M.M. Abeeyar who led the team of researchers and authored the report together with M.T. Padmajani and M.A.C.S. Bandara.
Farmers who spoke to the Sunday Times said pesticides had lost their strength and often the instructions given on the label of the bottle were not useful.

Cabbage farmer Chamly complained that his crop was being attacked by a pest these days, but the pesticide he used was not answering. “The instructions on the label asked us to mix 28 units. We even doubled this dose – but the problem still persists,” he complained.
Pesticides Registrar Anura Wijesekera said they were testing on the quality of pesticides at the point of import. He advised the farmers to stick to the dose mentioned on the label.

He said pesticides varied and some took time to act and this was probably why some farmers question their strength and overuse them. With the correct dosage, the pest problem could be effectively dealt with.  Dr. Wijesekera, however, noted that the quality of pesticides in the market should also be monitored.

Sarath Fernando, an official of the advocacy group, Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR), said the dearth of agriculture officers to advise farmers had aggravated the problem.  “Farmers just get advice from pesticide dealers or decide on a pesticide by following their neighbours. Earlier, there were enough agricultural officers to instruct farmers,” he said.

Mr. Fernando said vegetable could be grown successfully and profitably without any use of agrochemicals.  The activist said agrochemicals killed both useful and harmful insects and the long term use would enable the pests to develop resistance to them.
Besides these direct harmful effects, agrochemicals also pollute waterways and groundwater sources.

The HARTI report recommends the setting up of pest clinics to advise farmers on the correct use of pesticides and alternatives methods.  Following the Sunday Times report last week, several experts welcomed the Agriculture Minister’s move to authorise state officials including those in the health sector and Grama Niladharis to take legal action against those resorting to the indiscriminate use of pesticides and those who encourage this practice.

They also say there should be a mechanism to monitor and stop the sale of vegetable with pesticide residues. Until such steps are taken, consumers are advised to wash vegetables properly to minimise the harm.  Pesticides are more harmful than DCD in milk powder, the experts say. They ask why the government is not taking prompt action in the same way it acted on the milk powder case.

Promote ‘Green Band’ pesticides 

The Government banned the sale of some pesticides a few months ago. But upcountry farmers say the other pesticides are not as effective as the banned products.

Pesticides are colour coded based on their hazard levels and Class I pesticides or “Red band” pesticides are banned in Sri Lanka. Although Class II and Class III pesticides are largely used in Sri Lanka, farmers are advised to use the Class IV or ‘Green Band’ pesticides which are considered ‘least harmful’.

Green Band pesticides are effective as other class of pesticides but they take more time to attack the pests and are expensive. Therefore, farmers usually go for pesticides that give instant results.

Will overuse of agrochemicals bring another ‘Silent Spring’?

The impact of agrochemicals to biodiversity has long been established.  Rachel Carson’s study – which came out as a famous book ‘Silent Spring’ in 1962 — showed how the use of DDT affected birds. She found out that the DDT that passed onto birds through the food chain made the shells of the eggs thin. Thus they broke prematurely due to the weight of the mother bird and this was identified as the cause for the decrease in the bird population.

But there can be lots of unknown impacts. The ‘National Red List 2012 on Conservation Status of the Fauna and Flora’ launched last year explains the possible impact of agrochemicals on animals and plants in Sri Lanka. The species associate in freshwater are the most vulnerable, according to the Red List.

It says the heavy use of agrochemicals has contributed to the population decline of at least two species of endemic fish, pethiya bandula and aplocheilus dayi (uda handaya) and several species of other fish. Even the washing to the pesticide tanks in waterways also affects these fish.

The excessive use of agrochemicals also poses a threat to the orchid populations, the Red List’s chapter on Orchids states. Pesticides’ impact on orchid pollinators in turn affects many other plant species. Amphibians, freshwater crabs, freshwater plants, dragonflies, reptiles, spiders, dung beetles are some of the other species that are affected by agrochemicals, according to the Red List.

Application of insecticides and weedicides should be carried out in a manner that would have the least effect, especially on pollinators such as bees – the Red List says. Measures such as application of insecticides prior to flowering and at a time of the day when bees are less active on flowers would minimize their exposure to such chemicals, it says.

All pesticides approved for release in Sri Lanka should be assessed for impact on non-target organisms and the environment in general, and the labelling of such products should include information on environmental safeguards, it recommends.

Published on SundayTimes on 25.08.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130825/news/hidden-poison-in-vegetable-agrochemicals-59490.html 

The return of the Damselfly after 154 years

August 23, 2013

An animal or plant is considered ‘extinct’, if it has not been recorded for more than a century. The Sri Lanka Emerald Spreadwing (Sinhalestes orientalis) a beautiful Damselfly that had not been recorded for 154 years and thereby considered extinct had made a re-appearance last year. The information about this rediscovery has been published few weeks ago in Asian Journal of Conservation Biology authored by young researcher Amila P Sumanapala and expert on dragonflies M. Bedjanič.

_MG_5773 (c) Salindra Kasun Dayananda

According to Amila the species with its emerald body with yellow markings is easily identifiable. The male damselfly is slightly bigger than the female and unlike other damselflies this species spreads its wings when resting, hence the name “Spreadwing”. According to researchers they are found along slow-flowing forest streams. They invariably hang from the tip of a leaf.

There are 120 recorded species of dragonflies and damselflies, collectively known as order Odonata, in Sri Lanka. Of them 57 are believed to be endemic. Damselflies can usually be differentiated from dragonflies because of their thin, needle-like abdomens and by the way they stretch their wings out when not moving. With few exceptions like the Emerald Spreadwing, the wings of most damselflies are held along and parallel to, the body when at rest. The large eyes of the damselfly differ from those of dragonflies as they are separated.

The Peak Wilderness has recently been in the news with discoveries and rediscoveries being reported from this natural habitat which has now been declared a UNESCO Natural Heritage site. Many scientists believe although Sinharaja is the jewel in Sri Lanka’s biodiversity, the Peak Wilderness could be home to many more unique fauna and flora waiting to be discovered. However, it has been a difficult terrain to research because of its mountainous, slippery and misty conditions.

Water Pollution endangering  this mosquito-killer

A female Sinhalestes orientali

A few decades ago damselflies and dragonflies were in abundance. The insects need a pool of water whether small or big to lay their eggs and for their larval stage.

However, their numbers have declined drastically in recent years due to the pollution of water bodies. In the chapter about dragonflies in RedList 2012 by Dr.Nancy van der Poorten and Karen Conniff the writers point out water pollution as a serious threat to this species. As a result of agricultural production, many chemicals end up in the drains and streams where odonates breed. RedList-2012 also cites an example in Balangoda. For the past five years, the stream has become filled with soap and algae due to increased human population and some species of dragonflies that used to be seen there are no longer found in that body of water.

Damselflies and dragonflies are also bio-control agents as they devour harmful insects. Damselflies like dragonflies are predators and feed on harmful insects including mosquitoes in flight. More importantly, the nymphs (larvae) –of damselflies feed on mosquito larvae.

A male Sinhalestes orientalis. Pix by K. Dayananda and D. Randula

Published on SundayTimes on 18.08.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130818/news/the-return-of-the-damselfly-after-154-years-58434.html 

Gemunu & the Soldier: Comments on Yala shooting

August 21, 2013

“This is what we call ‘Donkey doing dog’s job’… Both dog’s inaction and donkey’s action is questionable – Roshan Wevita

Since the news spread that Yala’s tusker Gemunu is shot; lots of concerned wildlife enthusiasts have been commented on the issue through Social Media Channels. “Sri Lankan Wildlife” Facebook group has been a center of discussion, but these comments will soon be buried among other latest posts. So thought of archiving some of the interesting posts on my blog. But please note that these are my personal selection  extracted around 11.00 pm on 20th.Aug (done in a bit of hurry), so I could be missing some other interesting messages…  Please be free to “Leave a comment” on this blog post, so your thoughts too will be heard…!!

Mentioned above is the best comment illustrating on what happened in Yala. Pls note that those comments marked with a ‘*’ contains more text, but shortened for giving more prominence for the main message.

Sri-Lankan-Wildlife-page-on-FB

Roshan Wevita This is what we call ‘Donkey doing dog’s job’… Both dog’s inaction and donkey’s action are questionable *

Chandima Gunadasa Poor Gamunu.. this must be the most terrifying moment in his life. They say elephants never forget … I only hope he does !!!

Madhubhashini Jayawardena So it was Gamunu who paid the price! not the people. So Sad!!

Namal Kamalgoda This was inevitable

Hamid R Haniffa Everyone knew that this was coming, but from the Army? Hell no! *

Dilshad Jemzeed Can someone tel us the purpose of having an Army camp inside Yala after May 2009?

Chullante’ Jayasuriya Exactly! What is the reason for the Army’s presence in the park????

Chandini Rajaratnam to kill or not to kill is not the point. they cannot shoot inside the park

Naren Gunasekera The Army’s presence in the park is the same as why they have expanded their bases elsewhere, why the navy holds land in the east, why they build resorts in Yala and Trinco. It is a land grab, pure and simple by the powers that be.

Manori Gunawardena Crux of the matter is tourism industry it’s regulatory agencies and wildlife authorities have to Reign in the mess they have created. That shot was fired because sometime in the past some one after a quick buck fed an elephant.

Kulendra Janaka Here’s the punchline though; according to the minister “U harima ahinsaka aliyek” (It is a very harmless/gentle elephant). *

Kusum Kumar Fernando This is wonder of Asia! !!!!!!!

Hamid R Haniffa This is not Gamunu fault. But the fault of the DWC

Caryll Tozer And now, we have a scared but annoyed Gemunu, an even more dangerous situation

Chandini Rajaratnam elephants never forget

Elephant-rahula GunaseKera We need to use the opportunity to get people to listen, and take positive action.

Pravin Mendis There are only a very few trackers who can handle a situation like this now….most are so and so’s henchmen…

Elephant-rahula GunaseKera In Arizona they have special forces trackers on the border inside national parks, but they all are also wildlife officers. So if Sri Lanka wants to.keep.army personel inside parks at least request that they go through some type of training as to how to interact with wildlife.

Elephant-rahula GunaseKera This the.problem in Sri Lanka due to fear or pride no one learns from mistakes *

Manori Gunawardena Interesting take…..ultimately who should be held accountable for the “Gemunu incident”? Merely passing the buck to the Department of Wildlife is insufficient. This has to be tackled at Economic Development level vis a vis the Tourism Industry and its regulators.

In my experience the past couple of years the industry has been less than forthcoming in engaging in sustainable solutions to manage a visitor issue which at the end of the day benefits their industry, printing a few posters and leaflets as CSR and other token gestures will only serve to gloss over the underlying issue, that yala is over visited and there are too many rooms servicing the park with more under way.

Dilshad Jemzeed

This is all about being OPPORTUNISTIC! We as nature lovers waited for the right moment to get the permanent campers out from Yala and this is right time to get the army camp out from Yala. Lets everyone strive together in achieving this goal….

Naren Gunasekera What about the irresponsible jeep drivers?

Kpl Perera Shooting to air just to fear the animal is not a crime!! If any unfortunate thing happened if Gemunu was not chased away, what would have been your comments?

Manori Gunawardena The sign at the entrance to the National Park says enter at your OWN RISK……

Imran Jabeer So what do you suppose “Rambo” here would have done if Gemunu turned and charged him instead of fleeing in horror; I’m sure he would’ve unloaded his magazine on him

Manori Gunawardena Share widely people, this mayhem in the parks has to stop the tourism industry that touts wildlife tourism created this mess and the authorities stood idle and let it happen.

Renton de Alwis I agree Manori… we need to better manage the visits by tourists (both foreign and local) to our parks. Yala, Minnariya (The gathering is a shameful free for all of vehicles too) and other …. Too many vehicles intruding on the lives of these treasures. Tourism should make it its business to join in on establishing lines of control for it may mean killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Hisham Shums I think the problem here is not tourism but strict enforcement of the park rules and control of the number of jeeps that are in the park at one time. Yes, tourists may have fed Gemunu. The question is, why was it allowed?

The main issue is that safari jeeps are allowed to go into the parks without a guide from the Dept of Wildlife. Even when a guide is present, you don’t see them enforcing the rules because they know that the jeep owners / drivers have a lot of political influence. So what needs to be addressed is:

1. How do we educate, control and monitor the jeep drivers?
2. How do we educate our politicians and make it clear that this nonsense has to stop? When politicians interfere unnecessarily just to ensure they win the next election, things like this are bound to happen.

Blaming tourists and / or tour companies that promote wildlife in Sri Lanka is not going to help the cause.

The tourists need to be made aware of the rules and regulations and the park office has to monitor and ensure that the rules and regulations are followed. This is the bottom line.

Manori Gunawardena Actually tour companies are the first point of contact in educating tourists on park etiquette, but how many for example brief guests on arrival or pre safari on park rules as they do in many reputed tourism facilities internationally.

1. For small facilities like yours Hisham Shums , pick train a few drivers to work with. 2 provide a briefing on park rules to your guests on arrival at your accommodation a pre safari brief .

While authorities have been lethargic enforcing rules the operators and accommodation providers have a huge role to play in how the park is serviced. These types of initiatives can be expedited.

Set a good example….

Manori Gunawardena Hisham Shums your a minority, will inbox some good guys. The primary function of the DWC is conservation now with increased visitation they have to evolve a parallel cardre to serve as guides enforce rules.

DWC does not have a tourism services mandate the economic development authorities have to create one and the resources.

Dyan Amodha Kannangara Imran Jabeer I was thinking the same thing, idiot would have most certainly unloaded the magazine. That f#$#%^&# jeep driver should never have stopped and at least should have driven off when Gemunu picked his vehicle. We Sri Lankans are so short sighted we bite the hand that feeds us.

Hamid R Haniffa This is not Gamunu fault. But the fault of the DWC

If the DWC can adapt similar guidelines as which to what is being followed at world’s end, then there is hope. And the DWC got to take more control of the Parks. And not count on others(ect.. Army, RDA). The up keeping of the park should be done by DWC, with trackers given supreme control once entered in to national parks.

Roshan Wevita This Armed soldier must have been worried about Gemunu putting his trunk inside the jeep.. However he had no business there yet; More than him the tracker should have been concerned about the safety of visitors cos it’s his job, not a soldier’s.

This is what we call ‘Donkey doing dog’s job’… Both dog’s inaction and donkey’s action are questionable *

Dilshad Jemzeed This is a golden opportunity to move the army camp out from Yala. As we waited for the right moment and got the permanent campers out, lets persuade the authorities to remove the Army camp from Yala NP……

Peshele Randeni What we should look at is to impose the existing laws and not introduce more.

Kpl Perera DWLC should impose new rules & regulations or laws banning entry of private vehicles to National Parks. DWLC should provide transport facilities by their own mode of transport or contracted services. Specialy designed buses could be utilised for this. By this scheme you can minimise no of vehicles entering parks & also visitors can enjoy safe, convenient, comfortable experience in a National Park.

Ajith Gamage At the end….this elephant “Gemunu” will be blamed. Wildlife Dept. officials who accompany the vehicles must take the responsibility and should not allow the drivers to stop the vehicle near the elephant. This situation has created by the people. Wildlife officials and the DRIVERS OF THE SAFARI VEHICLES must act in a more responsible manner to avoid such incidents and more importantly to protect this animal.

Compiled at midnight, 20th.Aug.2013

Gemunu & the Soldier: Images of Yala Shooting incident

August 20, 2013

The real story behind the shooting incident in Yala is now fully revealed. The images of the incident has been posted on “Sri Lankan Wildlife” group by biologist Manory Gunawardane. She stresses  that the incident should be taken to rethink on issues Yala National Park faces due to over-visitation. I’m re-posting this series of images on my blog for future references..

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A video of Yala Shooting emerges

August 19, 2013

..a video showing soldier on foot firing his automatic rifle aimed at air to scare the jumbo emerge. Luckily, Gemunu ran toward the jungle. But what if he panicked and with the fright, decides to attack the soldier…? Wouldn’t he unleash the bullets in his firearm toward Gemunu..?  ..and it will be the end of another tusker.

Image just before shooting occur

Soldier on foot at Yala seconds before shooting to the air to scare Gemunu

Gemunu and the result of irresponsible tourism

The following is statement by the Federation of Environmental Organizations (http://www.feosl.org/) with regard to the recent incident of firing of an automatic rifle in Yala National Park by a member of the armed forces at an elephant. 

A National Park is an exclusive space set aside for the conservation of wildlife. Therefore the protection, safety and wellbeing of wildlife within the parks are paramount and remain the primary purpose. National Parks are also national assets. Visitation should be considered a privilege. Visitors must respect this privilege Regrettably, with the rapid development and emphasis on wildlife tourism, there is an increasing trend where adherence to rules and regulations that govern visitation are not followed. Indiscipline among visitors and tour service providers is rising. 

Recent incidents in Yala NP that relate to Gemunu, an adult tusker, illustrate the broader and very serious ramifications of unchecked visitation. Gemunu grew up in Yala NP and is habituated to visitors. Recently visitors have begun to feed him, despite this practice being strictly prohibited under park rules. Gemunu has now started to aggressively approach vehicles in search of food, creating a potentially dangerous situation for both visitors and the elephant. 

On this occasion, however, a ranking army officer and entourage, on duty supervising the “Pada Yatra” pilgrimage through the Park, were amidst this melee. Photographs and video taken during this incident clearly show a soldier, disembarked from the vehicle, firing at least one shot, possibly to drive off the elephant. The Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance clearly states that under no circumstances should a service weapon be discharged in a National Park at a wild animal, other than by a member of the Department of Wildlife Conservation. Therefore the incident is a clear violation of national park laws.

The FEO strongly believes that such incidents are the outcomes of unplanned, unregulated and irresponsible tourism that threaten the protected areas of Sri Lanka.

The FEO urges the Minister of Wildlife Conservation to: 
1) expedite measures to curb visitor related infractions in National Parks, 
2) Compel the Department of Wildlife Conservation to enforce the park regulations and rules; and 
3) together with the relevant line ministries and stakeholders develop a sustainable visitor management plan for National Parks. 

Pangolins could be at higher risk, warn conservationists

April 7, 2013

By Malaka Rodrigo. Conservationists have called for the protection of pangolins, a type of ant-eater known as “kaballawa” or “eya” after it was named the animal at the highest risk in the National Red List of Threatened Fauna and Flora’s “Near-Threatened” category.�Pangolins are found throughout Sri Lanka and used to be seen living close to human habitation but poaching and habitat loss has sharply reduced their numbers, said Sampath Goonatilake of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Sri Lanka.

A wounded pangolin being treated by members of the Galle Conservation Society

The solitary nocturnal animals used to be found in Attidiya and closer to Colombo in the late 1970s and early 1980s but are no longer found there, he said, calling for a thorough study on their numbers to assess their true conservation status.

The pangolin, which is covered with protective scales, uses its very long and sticky tongue to suck out ants and termites from their hiding places. When threatened, it rolls up into a ball to protect itself emits a foul, strong-smelling fluid from its anal scent glands.

Although widely thought to be a reptile, the pangolin is a mammal and is hunted by poachers for its flesh. It often becomes entangled in wire traps set for porcupines and other animals and is also targeted when found emerging from hideouts close to human settlements.

The president of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle, Madura de Silva, says the society’s Wild Animal rescue program based at Hiyare, Galle has, over the years, rescued many pangolins caught in traps and given them a new chance of life.

An Indian traveller was nabbed a few months ago trying to smuggle 2.2kg of pangolin scales out of Sri Lanka. The thick, protective scales, made out of kerotene – the same substance as our fingernails – are powdered and used in Chinese medicine.

The wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, says pangolins are the most commonly encountered mammals in the illegal wildlife trade in Asia. They are in high demand in east and south-east Asia, with China and Vietnam identified as the largest consumer nations.
The surging demand for pangolins dealt a massive blow to the species in 2011, with 40,000–60,000 slaughtered that year, according to records compiled by the conservation network, Project Pangolin.

Although the pangolin scales trade is well established in the region, the arrest of the Indian traveller marked the first time an attempt to smuggle pangolin scales was reported from Sri Lanka, said Samantha Gunasekara, the head of Sri Lanka Customs’ Biodiversity, Culture and National Heritage Protection Division.

An Indian was nabbed while trying to smuggle out 2.2 kg of pangolin scales out of Sri Lanka

Mr Goonatilake said conservationists had been finding scales of pangolins left around on sites where they had been poached, so he did not believe the trade in scales was currently an organised business.�But the killing of pangolins for their flesh was a matter of concern, he said, and a proper conservation program was necessary.

Chinese caught with corals at airport

Three Chinese nationals were caught at the Bandaranaike International Airport at Katunayake last week trying to take out 24 corals.�Their illegal booty was detected when Customs officials stopped and searched them as they were leaving the country on March 28.

The corals were wrapped in wet clothes and had been skilfully extracted, without damage to the base. A few oysters were also found.

The Chinese said they were workers at Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport and had collected the corals from the southern coast. They pleaded not knowing that taking corals szx an offence and were allowed to leave for Shanghai with a severe warning.

On March 8, another Chinese man was caught trying to smuggle out about 800 shells and pieces of coral. The Customs Biodiversity Unit said some of the shells belonged to protected species.

Published on SundayTImes 31.03.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130331/news/pangolins-at-high-risk-warn-conservationists-39310.html

First ‘International Forest Day’ celebrates today

March 21, 2013

Today, 21st March, is the International Day of Forests. The importance of the forests has increased in this era of Climate Change as forests are perhaps the greatest Carbon Sinks that removes atmospheric Carbon Dioxide leading the way of the fight against Global Warming.  This date was agreed by the UN General Assembly in November last year so that every year there would be one day set aside to “celebrate and raise awareness” of forests.

Forest(c) Greenpeace

Forest is a valuable Ecosystem (c) Greenpeace

Sri Lanka is considered as a global Biodiversity Hotspot and the diversity of life in forests contributes much for claiming this prestigious status. The Tropical Wet Lowland Evergreen Rainforests and the cloud forests (tropical moist evergreen forest) in hill country of Sri Lanka is home for about 80% of the Endemic fauna and flora of Sri Lanka. But sadly, majority of the protected areas of Sri Lanka are from Dry Zone despite the  remaining forests in Wet Zone and central highlands are severely threatened by Encroachment.

Forget the little creatures inhabit in this habitats. Forests perform lots of valuable Ecosystem Services that helps to regulates lots of systems support humanity and our survival.

First of all, forest regulates the climate. Statistics show that forests store nearly 300 billion tonnes of carbon in their living parts. This is roughly 40 times the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fossil fuels. Deforestation accounts for approximately the same amount of climate pollution as all the world’s cars, trucks, trains, planes, and ships combined. So, from a climate point of view it’s better to keep the GHGs where they are by preserving and protecting the forests, says Greenpeace.

The world’s fight against climate change has placed a special emphasis on protecting the world’s remaining forests. This has given rise to a concept called “Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation” (REDD). According to this mechanism, there is a set of steps designed to use market/financial incentives to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation and forest degradation.

In simpler terms, REDD is a mechanism to financially reward commitments by developing forested nations to stop deforestation/forest degradation and enhancing forest carbon stocks that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Recognizing the more important role of forests, this programme has become REDD+ where the ‘plus’ goes beyond deforestation, also including the role of conservation, sustainable management aiming to protect forest biodiversity too.

REDD implementation is expected to take place in a post-2012 climate regime, and global level discussions are currently being held to finalize the mechanism. The World Bank and the United Nations have launched a programme (REDD readiness) to support developing countries to develop capacity to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and to implement a future REDD mechanism.

In theory, this can bring multiple benefits to Sri Lanka so it is worth evaluating the opportunities of REDD and getting ready before it is too late. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol which is a global agreement to reduce green house gas emissions also held similar promise, but Sri Lanka was late to act on it. Are we on top of this new forest initiative ?

The UN-REDD Programme initially works with nine member countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America: Bolivia, Congo, Indonesia, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zambia. It was announced that Sri Lanka has been admitted to the ‘United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) Programme’ in October 2009. Since then Sri Lanka has been granted observer status to the UN-REDD programme and is currently in the process of doing the ground work for REDD.

Image on deforestation. Courtesy UN REDD

“Getting ready for the REDD is not an easy task, but the REDD-Readiness process alone will provide benefits to Sri Lanka,” says Conservator of Forests of the Forest Department Anura Sathurusinghe who is also the REDD focal point for Sri Lanka.

There is much data and information to be collected before formulation of REDD projects. The first phase of REDD-readiness includes formulating of National REDD Strategy development, capacity building, institutional strengthening along with many other pilot activities.

An accurate national inventory of forest resources of the country is essential information needed for the REDD programme as it will help in estimating the amount of carbon contained in these forests. This carbon measurement process has already started with a team of experts currently evaluating the carbon stocks of different forest types in Sri Lanka. Other than the forests, agricultural lands such as rubber, coconut and forest plantations (such as Eucalyptus) and also home gardens are studied through different methods to estimate their stock of carbon.

Experts also point out the many drawbacks that could hinder the success of these REDD mechanisms including cost of certification, lack of a comprehensive database on quantification of GHG emission reductions by existing forests and some areas of the process that are still not clear etc.

That some of the forests are managed by the Forest Department and the Department of Wildlife Conservation which is now outside of the Environmental Ministry also would require coordination between ministries.

Environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardane agrees that the REDD initiative could bring benefits to the country by reducing deforestation if properly implemented. He pointed out that the government will also be bound to protect the forests as a result of the agreement.

Many of Sri Lanka’s leading environmentalists were against the previous attempt to introduce the Tropical Forest Conservation (TFC) Act by the United States which proposed the swap of debts for protection activities of Sinharaja forest. “TFC was between two countries which was not transparent, while REDD will be governed by an international agreement; so there is no complaint at this stage although we need to evaluate future developments carefully,” Mr. Gunawardane said.

Kanneliya absorbs more carbon than Sinharaja

Prof. Janendra Costa, has already completed the estimation of carbon absorption rates of Sinharaja and the Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya (KDN) forest complex. The total carbon stock of Sinharaja is 305 metric tons of carbon per hectare while KDN records 312. Carbon stock is the amount of carbon in the standing biomass (mass of organic matter) of the forest at a given point of time.

It is the result of carbon sequestration over a large number of years where the Carbon sequestration rate is defined as the amount of carbon that the forest would absorb (through photosynthesis) and retain during a given period of time.

It is the carbon sequestration rate (through absorbing atmospheric CO2) that is important for REDD+ because it is the parameter that represents the contribution from a forest to climate change mitigation. This annual carbon sequestration rate (metric tons of carbon per hectare per year) is 8.953 in KDN while in Sinharaja it is 7.403.

An interesting finding is that the total annual carbon dioxide absorption rate (million metric tons of CO2 per year) of KDN is higher than the Sinharaja Man and Biosphere forest reserve.

Prof. De Costa points out this is primarily because KDN is located in a slightly warmer environment, which receives a slightly greater amount of solar radiation (both of which are because KDN is located slightly closer to the Equator), which enables a slightly greater photosynthetic rate. The research also revealed Sinharaja absorbs 2.52% of Sri Lanka’s total annual CO2 emissions and KDN absorbs 3.26%.

In comparison to the CO2 absorption rates of these two tropical rainforests, Prof. Costa expects the CO2 absorption rates of the dry zone forests and montane forests (e.g. Horton Plains, part of Knuckles and the Peak Wilderness) to be lower.

He suggests that in the dry zone forests, the tree density is lower and because of the warmer temperatures a greater percentage of absorbed carbon would be released again due to greater respiration.

So let’s all understand the value of forests and protect them – if not for Biodiversity; for our own sake..!!!

Message of the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity on Occasion of International Forest Day

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/110102/Plus/plus_01.html

Rise for the Sparrow – where has gone our ‘ge kurullas’..?

March 20, 2013

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is indeed a special bird that was common decades ago. They were considered a good-will bird, so boxes, pots with holes were kept inviting them to nest near our houses. Sparrows were a common scene in most  the public places like markets or railway stations. But this bird once commonly recorded started to disappear without our knowledge. Now Sparrows are gone from many places they were once common or their numbers have reduced. This decline of sparrows has been recorded from different parts of the world puzzling the Ornithologists.

The decline of Sparrow under our radar has also highlighted the importance of keeping an eye even on common species. To highlight these facts and promote sparrow conservation, the 20th March has been declared as World Sparrows Day (WSD) by a group of Environmental Organizations around the world. The theme this year is given as “Rise for the Sparrows” urging the public to have a look at these birds once common in their vicinity.

rise for the sparrows

The World Sparrow’s Day has been initiated by the Nature Forever Society of India in collaboration with the Eco-Sys Action Foundation (France) and numerous other national and international organisations across the world according to Wikipidea. Their website http://www.worldsparrowday.org mentions the theme ‘Rise for the Sparrow’ is aimed at empowering and inspiring citizens, corporate and educational institution to actively get involved in sparrow conservation, monitoring and creating awareness with regard to the conservation of house sparrow and other common birds. They aim to reach out to people across the the world to empower them with simple solutions which will not involve a lot of time and resources but at the same time will have a significant impact on sparrow conservation.

Elephants or Leopard could be more threatened, but we can do very little to protect them. But here is an opportunity to study and help a bird that is being declined in our presence. Following is World Sparrow Day organizers mentioned on ways you can help the Sparrows..

Male House Sparrow (c) Wikipedia

Male House Sparrow (c) Wikipedia

YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE (Extract from http://www.worldsparrowday.org)

Every creature has a significant role to play in the web of life. Just as the little house sparrow is a major indicator of the health of our environment, each of us can help in various ways to protect the house sparrow. We need to come forward to help the bird by raising awareness on the issue. We also need to start house sparrow habitat conservation drives by providing water and food regularly, by switching back to organic gardening, planting more hedges and putting up nest boxes dedicated to house sparrows.

CHIRP FOR THE HOUSE SPARROW!

Do you identify with the problem the house sparrow faces? Share with us ways you came up with to help the bird.

Would you like to help but can’t think of a way to reach out? Look up our ideas. Which group do you identify with? There’s an idea for everyone!

The lonesome one some sparrow :

If you are an individual and would prefer to celebrate World Sparrow Day by yourself or with a small group, you could resolve to set out a sparrow feeder filled with grain and a fresh bowl of water every day beginning March (?) 2011, at the same time and the same place. House sparrows love seeds and kitchen scraps. They feed their young insects with aphids and caterpillars. Most birds need to drink water at least twice a day, throughout the year. Sparrows, which are seed eaters, need more water since the seeds are dry. Put out a shallow dish of clean water in a shady place. Make sure the water is changed regularly, otherwise, the birds can fall ill.

Gather information :

on the problem and address a group of people to raise awareness.

Cosy twosome :

Sparrows are known to be extremely loyal to their partners. Just like you! Celebrate their commitment to each other with your loved one. One reason why there are fewer house sparrows is modern construction. House sparrows love to tuck into crevices but glass and concrete constructions leave little space for them. You can order nest boxes made of recycled wood from us or put up your own.

The happy, chirpy family :

Go for a picnic. Remember to take some grain. Set them out near a thicket, some distance from you, and watch for sparrows and other small birds. Teach children the importance of birds and how we must give them space. Make sure you leave the picnic spot as clean as you found it except for the crumbs and grain you left for your feathered friends.

A school of sparrows :

Are you a member of your school Ecology Club? Celebrate WSD with a presentation on why we need the house sparrow, the dangers it is facing and how each of you can help. Put up feeders and nesting boxes.

Prof Sparrow :

College eco clubs can twitter away. Organise an awareness campaign with posters and audio visual information in a public place that draws the most footfalls and eyeballs, like the entrance lobby of your college. Put up feeders and nesting boxes.

Sparrow community :

There is a lot more you can do in your neighbourhood, office or institution! Request the local municipal authorities to permit you to plant hedges in the park. Don’t allow the hedges to be landscaped, since that is dangerous to birds, small animals and insects. Place grain bowls regularly at one place in the park or on the window sill, but make sure the feeding birds are safe from dogs, cats and human footfalls.

E-savvy sparrow :

Are you adept at social networking? Place our link and all the others that deal with the house sparrow on your account so that all your friends get to know about the threat to the doughty little bird.

Lanka urged to vote for sharks, manta rays

March 10, 2013

As the triennial meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora takes place in Bangkok, Malaka Rodrigo stresses on the need to save those species which are fast becoming a rarity in our waters

A crucial proposal on protecting sharks and manta ray species has stirred debates and discussions ahead of a vote at the ongoing Bangkok conference on the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). �The Sunday Times learns the proposal would be put for a vote by secret ballot among CITES signatory nations at the conference where the Sri Lankan delegation is led by Wildlife Department Director General H.D. Ratnayake.

Sharks waiting to be auctioned

Attempts to contact Mr. Ratnayake to know how Sri Lanka would vote were not successful. �CITES is often hailed by scholars and conservationists as the most effective international environmental agreement to date. Sri Lanka was one of the 178 signatory countries that meet once in three years to discuss measures to protect wildlife species threatened by trade-driven over-exploitation.

The convention and its appendices list species that could be at risk and call for the control of import, export and re-export of such species through a permit system.

They also state that species that are already threatened with extinction cannot be commercially traded. �More than 30,000 such species are given trade protection through CITES and 70 new proposals have been presented at the conference — the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP 16).

Aquatic species top the conference agenda with proposals calling for the protection of shark and manta ray species among other threatened species. This species to be protected include oceanic white-tip shark, and three species of hammerhead shark and two species of manta ray — species found in Sri Lankan waters.

The hammerhead shark is notable for its unusual shape of the head which has given it its English name. Locally, it is known as “Udalu Mora”. There are three species of hammerhead sharks — scalloped hammerhead (sphyrna lewini), great hammerhead (sphyrna mokarran) and smooth hammerhead (sphyrna zygaena). The scalloped and great hammerhead sharks have already been listed as ‘endangered’ while smooth hammerhead sharks are considered ‘vulnerable’ to extinction, according to IUCN Red List.
Oceanic white-tip sharks (carcharhinus longimanus), said to be an aggressive species, live in deep waters, but fishermen have become more accustomed to kill them and as a result they are ‘vulnerable’ to extinction. Sharks and mantas live long and take time to mature sexually. Sharks and mantas have a long gestation period and produce only a few young.

Oceanic whitetip shark Pic courtesy Norbert Probst/Imagebroker/FLPA RM

Small bony fish, which have many predators, usually lay thousands of eggs during one spawning season for the survival of the species. Sharks, top predators themselves, give birth to a few young during their life time as they face no major threats. But the situation is different today and they too face a major threat with the humans invading the ocean and engaging in a killing frenzy.

But sadly, overfishing, driven by the high demand for shark fins and manta ray gill, does not allow the shark and manta populations to recover. Shark fin soup is a popular delicacy in China and other East Asian countries while manta gill plates are used in Chinese medicine. Hundreds of sharks are caught daily in Sri Lankan waters and there is a big export market for their dried fins.

If the CITES proposal is adopted, Sri Lanka will be required to introduce a permit system to regulate the export of shark and manta products. Welcoming the proposal, Dr. Hiran Jayawardane, former Chairman of the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA), said large manta ray species were a rare sight today in our waters and it was indeed good to see efforts being made for their protection. “Not just hammerheads, but all shark species are under threat today due to large-scale fishing.”

Dr. Jayewardene said many countries such as the Maldives and Seychelles had taken measures to protect their marine resources which in turn benefitted them economically through tourism and other areas. �“We need a more enlightened and sophisticated approach to marine conservation,” Dr. Jayewardene said drawing attention to the upcoming Marine Conservation Forum organised by the Colombo-based Indian Ocean Marine Affairs Co-operation (IOMAC). The Forum will focus on international experience and inspire countries like Sri Lanka to be more compassionate towards marine life.

Fisheries Department Director General Nimal Hettiarachchie said the department was planning to start a monitoring programme on shark landings. He pointed out that Sri Lanka had already banned the catching of Thresher Shark, a species threatened with extinction.

Conservationists said if the catching continues in an unsustainable manner, sharks and manta rays would decline to a point that the entire trade will collapse. “So it is better to act now before it is too late. Let’s hope that Sri Lanka will take the right decision in joining hands with the rest of the world in protecting fish in the troubled waters,” one conservationist said.

Hammerheads sharks caught in Negombo. Sonja Fordham of Shark Advocates International inspecting them.

Published on SundayTimes on 13.03.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130310/news/lanka-urged-to-vote-for-sharks-manta-rays-36166.html 

Weni wel the local paracetamol in market hot water

March 10, 2013

Forest officials and experts have expressed serious concern over illegal and unchecked harvesting of weni wel, Sri Lanka’s age-old multi-cure herb, by racketeers and profiteers driven by the high demand for it. �Recently, forest officers in Thawalama arrested four people who were transporting without a permit some 700 kg of weni wel. Thawalama forest officer Sunil Kaluthotage said the suspects pleaded guilty when they were produced before a magistrate.

Prematurely harvested weni wel stems being dried.

The case was the latest addition to the series of detections made in the area. �Mr. Kaluthotage said that during the past 12 months, at least six illegal ‘weni wel’ cases were reported from his range alone and this showed that haphazard harvesting was on the rise to meet the demand for weni wel in the market.�Locally known as weni wel, weniwelgata or ban wel, the plant has Ayurvedic medicinal properties. Described as the Ayurvedic equivalent of paracetamol, weni wel is a much sought after herbal cure for ailments ranging from common flu to tetanus. It is a key ingredient in the famous Pas Panguwa.

Known as ‘False Calumba’ in English and coscinium fenestratum scientifically, weni wel is a woody climber commonly found in Sri Lanka’s lowland wet forests such as Sinharaja and Kanneliya. The plant is also native to South India, Cambodia and West Malaysia. �But unchecked harvesting of weni wel, which takes decades to reach maturity, has raised alarm among experts. They say that some plants take 30 years to mature to the level which gives it a ‘geta’ or knotty appearance – a sign that indicates that it was of best quality.

The herb is also used in a range of commercial products including soap, creating a big demand for it. �Prof. Nimal Gunatilleke, an expert on forests, said he believed that the demand for it in the market had led to unchecked and premature harvesting of weni wel.�“While we can be happy that a traditional herbal product has found new and emerging markets both locally and overseas, can the resource base cope with the current and projected demand?” he asked, stressing the need for a thorough research to find the right balance.

“As biology researchers of both timber and non-timber forest products, we realised this need several decades ago. We have been studying the weni wel’s biology and ecology as well as its propagation and cultivation in a number of habitats with a view to reducing the extractive pressure on the wild populations,” he said.

Prof. Nimal Gunatilleke warned that if this current level of extraction was permitted, weni wel would soon, if not already, be on the list of threatened plants of Sri Lanka.
The eminent botany professor said he had seen large stocks of dried weni wel stems along the Kukule-Molkawa road, ready for transport. He said the people had told him that they had paid for their permits to harvest them.

Prof. Gunatilleke said that since weni wel grew better in partial light and was commonly found in degraded forests and forest edges, the plant could be grown in pine forests in the wet zone and in home gardens. He said the weni-wel plants that were planted at the edge of Sinharaja on experimental basis reached harvestable level within 15 years or so with no fertiliser added, though the quality would have been better if the harvest had been done much later.

A common sight along the Kukule-Molkawa road

The professor welcomed a recent suggestion by Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa to set up a forest in every village.�“This concept of ‘one forest for one village’ would be an excellent proposition in managing local ecosystems while providing benefit to the local people. At the same time, it would also be worthwhile to consider how the existing pine plantations could be converted into forests of native plants, both timber and non-timber species,” he said adding that this would help enhance biological diversity and ensure environmental security.

“On our part, we have shown that this could be done in the lowland wet zone using suites of such species of ecological and rural economic importance in Sinharaja and Hantana demonstration plots. More such studies are needed, if we are to conserve and utilise our rich biological heritage, bringing in tangible benefit to the local communities,” Prof. Gunatilleke said.

Published on SundayTimes on 13.03.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130310/news/weni-wel-the-local-paracetamol-in-market-hot-water-36197.html

Manta ray struggles for survival

February 25, 2013

Overfishing threatens the magnificent and prized ‘Ali Maduwa’, writes Malaka Rodrigo�

A giant “maduwa”, or manta ray, was netted last week by fisherman in Welipatanwila, Ambalanthota, on the South coast. The ocean creature was pregnant and weighed 1,500 kilograms. A week earlier, another manta ray was caught by fishermen in Akkaraipattu, on the East coast. Both sea creatures have been identified as Giant Oceanic Manta Rays, the largest member of the ray family.

“Maduwa”, or manta ray, that was netted last week by fishermen in Welipatanwila, Ambalanthota, on the South coast

The Giant Oceanic Manta Ray was a common catch a decade ago, but the creature is steadily becoming less common. Known locally as “Ali Maduwa”, the creature is hunted primarily for its gill plates, which are extracted, dried and exported. Dried gill plates are widely used in Chinese traditional medicine. A kilogram can fetch between Rs.15,000 and Rs. 20,000. The manta ray uses its cartilaginous gill plates to filter the plankton that it lives on. The delicate gill filaments also play a role in the manta ray’s breathing system.

Manta rays are slow breeders with long lives. The animal, which can live to 50 years (some are known to have lived to 100 years), has a gestation period of more than a year and gives birth to just one single pup. Young mantas take between 10 and 15 years to reach sexual maturity.

“Manta ray populations simply cannot survive the current level of commercial fishing,” says manta expert Daniel Fernando. “Any target fishing that annually removes even a relatively small percentage of the breeding adults results in a rapid decline in overall populations within a few years. The remaining mature rays cannot breed fast enough to replace those lost to fishing. Manta rays in our waters are already in decline. Fishermen say they rarely catch large mantas in our waters any more.”

Daniel Fernando works for the Sri Lanka Manta Project (Manta Trust) and collects manta ray landings data for his research. �Most of the time mantas are a bycatch of gill nets, says Dr. Rekha Maldeniya, a marine fish expert who works for the National Aquatic Research and Development Agency (NARA). “Our fishermen do not like it when these large creatures get entangled in their nets, because they can damage the net.”

The manta ray comprises only 1 per cent of large pelagic fish catch, such as tuna, Dr. Maldeniya says. “NARA identifies the importance of skates and rays, but we don’t have the funds to carry out comprehensive research on these sea animals.”

Daniel Fernando of Manta Trust says fishermen can release manta rays that get entangled in their nets, but do not because they know the commercial value of the manta’s gill plates. He says the manta would be spared if fishermen used other sustainable methods of fishing, such as the pole-and-line tuna fishing method practised in the Maldives. The gill-net is one of the least sustainable of fishing methods, he adds.

Sri Lanka, like most countries, has not reported manta ray landings to world bodies such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Researchers believe Sri Lanka is among the leading countries that fish manta rays, and the closely related Devil Ray. There is hope on the horizon for the rays if the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) makes a global decision on manta exploitation.

Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil have proposed that the two manta ray species be listed under CITES, an international treaty drawn up in 1973 to prevent international trade from threatening animals and plants in the wild. Proposals to list manta rays and scores of other species in the CITES list will be discussed in March at the 16th Conference of Parties (COP16) to CITES. CITES has 177 member countries, including Sri Lanka. A two-thirds majority vote is required for the adoption of listing proposals. If this is agreed, Sri Lanka will have to introduce a permit system for the export of manta ray gills, a step that would help monitor and manage this particular fishery.

Manta expert Daniel Fernando said the move was directed at international trade and would not affect Sri Lankans fishing for local consumption. The move would help manage manta ray populations. Alternatives, such as manta ray tourism, as practised in the Maldives, would bring long-term benefits.�Mr. Fernando said a workshop on manta rays was held in Colombo for CITES delegates. It was attended by major countries in the region, including India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Indonesia, and the Maldives. All participants were positive about regulating the manta ray fishery.

In 2011, Shark Advocates International president Sonja Fordham met senior Sri Lankan officials to discuss shark and manta ray conservation.

Ms. Fordham was a leading figure in bringing the Giant Manta Ray under the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS). Through this listing, Sri Lanka and all CMS parties with giant mantas in their waters have agreed to protect the species and cooperate in preserving manta habitats.

Sonja Fordham says equal efforts should be extended to protect the oceanic whitetip sharks and three species of hammerhead, all of which are found and fished off Sri Lanka.

“We are hopeful Sri Lanka will participate in the CITES meeting and support the listing of these vulnerable shark and ray species,” Sonja Fordham told the Sunday Times.

“Support from Sri Lanka would send a positive signal about the country’s commitment to sustainable exploitation of marine resources and can help secure a much-needed global safeguard, before it’s too late.”

Published on SundayTimes on 24.02.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130224/news/manta-ray-struggles-for-survival-34300.html

Uma Oya project: Register your objections, urge environmentalists

February 24, 2013

(Published in SundayTimes on 17.02.2013) Environmentalists have voiced concern over public apathy regarding the supplementary Environmental Impact Assessment of the second phase of the Uma Oya multi-purpose project though it has been open to public comment since January.

The EIA document will be open for public comment at the Central Environment Authority (CEA) only until February 22, and environmentalists are urging the public to review it as the cost of the project is eventually borne by them.

The first phase of the Uma Oya hydropower project which includes the construction of the dam is already underway with financial assistance from Iran. �Uma Oya flows from the central hills to the Mahaweli River. Under the project its water will be diverted to the Kirindi Oya basin which will take water to Hambantota through a 19 km long underground tunnel across the mountains in Bandarawela. A dam will be built at Puhulpola (in Welimada) and a reservoir in Diaraba for this purpose.

Environmentalists charge that a flawed EIA for the first phase was passed in 2011 under government pressure. The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) registering its objections over the first EIA in 2011 pointed out that the environmental cost had not been analysed properly. When the cost of resettlement too is included the project doesn’t yield any benefits. Hemantha Withanage of CEJ said the Uma oya project would only scatter the communities as “development refugees” for the sake of development.

Another point of contention was the release of water for cultivation. Environmentalists question the prudence of diverting water over such a long distance to support only about 1000 farmers. They fear the cost of the project will far outweigh the expected benefits. Since the project has already started, they charge that the current EIA was just a showpiece but call for the public to register their objections so that authorities will be forced to find alternatives.

Map of Uma oya (c) DailyNews http://tinyurl.com/aqom58s

Map of Uma oya (c) DailyNews

Published in SundayTimes on 17.02.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130217/news/uma-oya-project-register-your-objections-urge-environmentalists-33538.html