Archive for the ‘2010: Year of Biodiversity’ Category

Coming to town with the Tree of the Season!

December 26, 2010

Every year, come Christmas time the Vihara Maha Devi Park pavement gets busy with Christmas tree sellers who pop up overnight. Malaka Rodrigo speaks to these vendors from Heeloya, a remote village in Bandarawela, to unveil the hidden story behind these Christmas trees

“Come sir..!! This Tree is about nine feet tall – look at the perfect conical shape, it is a perfect Christmas tree”. Like any other pavement seller, Bandula tried to convince the buyer that the tree he held was worth the money. Realizing it was beyond the buyer’s budget, Bandula showed a smaller tree. After a little bargaining, the tree was sold and a happy customer went home with the tree tied to his car hood, bringing the joy of Christmas to his family.
“It is not easy to sell a Christmas tree these days. Buyers want everything for a cheaper price,” Bandula said, untying another tree to exhibit to his next customer. Along the pavement lay several Christmas trees securely tied around with ropes without damaging the tender branches. Soon he stepped to the side of the road joining several other hawkers trying to sell their Christmas Trees ignoring the drizzle.
Customers checking out the trees

It is the Cypress tree that is being used as Christmas Trees in Sri Lanka, though Pinus trees are popular in other countries. Cypress grows straight with a perfect conical shape making it perfect as a Christmas tree.

They are also long lasting, where a tree can be kept for almost one month after been cut. Cypress has been frequently planted in hedges in the hill country mostly for its beauty. They are also planted in-between some commercial crops and also at places unsuitable for commercial crops.

“People do not know the effort we have to put in to bring these trees to the city,” commented Gunathilake – another tree vendor, who has been bringing Cypress trees to Colombo since the 1970s.

He related an interesting story behind these Christmas trees. All the Christmas trees that are sold near Vihara Maha Devi Park are ‘complete trees’ (not the branches) brought down from a small village called Heel-oya in Bandarawela. Most of the Cypress trees are cultivated to be cut and sold as Christmas trees and others are picked from private gardens and hedges of the hill country. Gunathilake himself owns about half-an acre of Cypress plantation in Heeloya. The trees have to be fertilized and well looked after for about two years until they reach a good height to cut.

Christmas tree thieves

“We also have to guard these trees from thieves,” Gunathilake said. While the vendors are in the city, selling trees cut for this season, the remaining trees are guarded by his family to protect them from Christmas tree thieves. A tree can be kept for about one month without any problem, so they are vulnerable for theft since the first week of December. “We guard our Cypress trees vigilantly since December 1. The remaining one year old trees too are guarded until the 24th,” said Gunathilake explaining it is not an easy process.

Guarding the trees doesn’t stop at Heel-oya. The pavements of Vihara Maha Devi Park too are not free from opportunistic thieves looking for easy money by stealing a couple of trees. “Earlier we had to sleep on these trees to bodily protect them from thieves who wait until we go to sleep to steal them. But things are now improved,” commented Raja – another tree seller who has regularly brought Cypress to town for the past 15 years.

Family business

Most of the sellers near Vihara Maha Devi Park are upcountry farmers who become Christmas tree sellers during the December festive season. Interestingly, all those who sell the trees near Vihara Maha Devi park are from the same Heeloya village in Bandarawela living in the 69B Grama Seva Division under Ella Government Secretariat. More than 50 villagers from the scenic Heeloya village come to Colombo annually, bringing with them Cyprus trees. Some of them are family members too – for example Gunathilake’s elder brother and younger brother both come to town with Cypress during the season.

Two or three sellers usually hire a lorry together, sharing the cost, to bring these trees all the way from Bandarawela. Once they get to Colombo, they literally live with the trees – eating and sleeping at the sales site. They putup tents on beside their trees and live at the mercy of the weather gods. Come December it’s a different way of life for these vendors.

Their trouble doesn’t end with getting the plants ready. To transport the trees, they also need to get a permit from the AGA’s office and the Forest Department. This sometimes takes time and some vendors complain that they need to give tips or ‘santhosam’ on the way at some checkpoints to get the trees released quickly. Permission for the Heel-oya clan to sell their Cypress trees at the Vihara Maha Devi Park was also not initially granted, but authorities later allowed them to stay there under the condition that they looked after the vicinity.

The pricing is usually done according to the height of the tree which can range from four feet to 12 feet. On average a plant exceeds about Rs.1000 totalling all the expenses, according to the vendors. But they complain their market is also diminished by the flooding of artificial Christmas Trees.

Environmental friendly

“Using Cypress trees as Christmas trees are environment friendly as they are biodegradable. That is why I always use a natural tree as a Christmas tree,” – said Chrystopher Fernando – a buyer we met at Vihara Maha Devi park pavement, explaining his preference for the natural Cypress. “It brings a natural feeling to the Christmas – Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a real Christmas tree,” said another buyer.

Some people buy artificial trees for the convenience, but most of the artificial Christmas trees are imported from other countries. “The money spent on these natural Cypress trees from Heeloya will remain in Sri Lanka and will help some Sri Lankan in the process to survive,” said Gunathilaka the 53 year old farmer.

This year they came to Colombo on December 17 and will remain until Christmas Eve. The trees that could not be sold will be left behind while they get back to the village. These vendors are not deterred by the hardships they face. “It is not an easy job – but we will come next season too bringing Christmas to town,” said the Heeloya Christmas tree vendors wishing every one a ‘Merry Christmas’.

Christmas Trees

The Cypress tree that is being used as a Christmas tree in Sri Lanka is known as Califonian Monterey cypress scientifically classified as Cupressus macrocarpa. It is a medium-sized conifer tree that was introduced by the British to Sri Lanka’s hill country. Dr.Siril Wijesundara – the Director General of the Botanical Gardens Department said Cypress was introduced to Sri Lanka as far back as 1880. The Hakgala Botanical Gardens in Nuwara Eliya has very old Cypress trees. The Cypress tree can grow to upto 40m and the trunk can grow to 2.5m diameter.

In other countries many varieties of Pinus or fir trees are used as Christmas trees. In the past, Christmas trees were often harvested from wild forests, but now almost all are commercially grown on tree farms in many other countries. Internet sources disclose that almost all Christmas trees in the US are grown on Christmas tree farms where they are cut after about ten years of growth and new trees planted.

Published on 26.12.2010 SundayTimes

A Table from the Sea’s Edge

November 15, 2010

An awkward looking table with a set of chairs seen in COP10 puzzled me few weeks ago with its rugged and antique look since I’ve seen it for the first time.. I’ve seen it on one morning while a group of volunteers struggle to relocate the heavy table at the lobby of COP10 venue at Nagoya Congress Centre. It was the activities of volunteers that I captured on my lenses, but haven’t got time search for more information about the table until I receive the communique by secretariat of Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) with information about this “Table from the Sea’s Edge”.

Infact I’ve surprised when I received a press release from the CBD secretariat mentioning the table’s uniqueness.. The wooden structure is made out of driftwood that afloat in the sea and washed ashore.. these wood were collected from different parts of the world and the masterpiece was created by British furniture-maker and artist Silas Birtwistle.. It has been an important structure to symbolize the harmony between the ecosystems…

More about the table on

The driftwood table at COP10 (c) Malaka Rodrigo

The driftwood table at COP10 (c) Malaka Rodrigo

Ahmed Djoghlaf, The Executive Secretary of the CBD at COP-10

Volunteers relocating the heavy driftwood table (c) Malaka Rodrigo

Following is a press release by the Secretariat of Biological Diversity about this driftwood table and chairs…


A Table from the Sea’s Edge – Artwork in celebration of the International Year of Biodiversity

Montreal, 11 November 2010 – During the historic United Nations summit on biodiversity recently concluded in Nagoya, Japan, an object that gained great attention from conference delegates was a large table and chairs crafted from driftwood. Created by British furniture-maker and artist Silas Birtwistle, the striking artwork was exhibited in the courtyard of the conference centre throughout the United Nations meeting, where it was unveiled to the public for the first time. The project is supported by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), WWF, who supported its creation and facilitated its deployment at the conference, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the shipping line Maersk. Numerous other organizations also contributed in various ways.

Birtwistle conceived and created the work as a contribution to the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity. The idea was to help raise public awareness of interlinked environmental issues and promote conservation of the world’s coastal and marine biodiversity. The sea shore represents the boundary between marine and terrestrial environments. Ocean currents connect continents and cultures. The table symbolizes the interface between land and sea, connections between human land-based activities and the coastal and marine environment, the links between cultures, and the need for dialogue and agreement between countries to ensure the protection of biodiversity.

In 2009 and 2010, Birtwistle visited beaches in four continents and lining three oceans, in Belize, Canada, Malaysia, and the United Republic of Tanzania, to collect the driftwood. The WWF offices and the coastal communities working with WWF at the sites in East Africa and the Coral Triangle, Malaysia, helped in the collection.

To read the full press release, please click

Saying hello to our jumbo friends

November 14, 2010

Remember Anula and Kosala – the little elephants sent to Japan in exchange for Black Rhinos three years ago? Malaka Rodrigo visits the Sri Lankans jumbos now in Nagoya’s Higashiyama Zoo… Zoos around the world is also being visited by millions of people annually and provide a great opportunity to raise awareness on the need to protect biodiversity as WAZA officers pointed out at a side event at COP10 in Nagoya…

I had a date at Nagoya’s Higashiyama Zoo and I was late. The Chief Veterinarian of Higashiyama Zoo was waiting and he accompanied me to meet my Sri Lankan friends – Kosala and Anula. A group of Japanese pre-school children were already greeting the elephants, while some young artists were making replicas of the elephants out of clay as their assignments.

Anula greeting the Japanese crowd

“Kosala and Anula have become a key attraction of our zoo,” said the Director of Higashiyama Zoo, Hiroshi Kobayashi. Kosala and Anula were brought to the Nagoya Zoo in 2007 in exchange for a pair of Black Rhinos and since then have been sharing the Asian Elephant enclosure. The Japanese zoo is proud to be custodians of these Asian Elephants.

Hiroshi led me to their elephant shed through the backdoor. It is not an open enclosure like in Sri Lanka but as Japan’s winter starts from November, the elephants need to be provided warmth. However, both Kosala and Anula seem to enjoy the snow during the short period they are allowed outside.

Obediant Kosala

“They like to play with the snow like children,” said Hiroshi laughing. The elephant shed is heated and the elephants are well protected during this time, assure the zoo officials. Being larger animals, both the Asian and African elephants seem to be able to adapt to the changing climate and do not show any particular uneasiness in facing the cold.

The elephant shed in fact took me back to the Japanese children’s film “The Little Elephant” I watched when I was a child. The elephant shed which was the original one built at the zoo’s inception looks identical to the one in the film and I wondered whether the story of the famous film too is set in this very zoo.

It was set in World War II where the military try to kill the elephants upon an order to get rid of dangerous animals and the attempt by the elephant keeper and Japanese kids to save their little elephant. In fact during World War II, the Japanese military had received orders to kill some dangerous animals fearing they would escape during the bombings. “But Nagoya Zoo is special as none of their elephants were harmed,” revealed director Hiroshi.

The Japanese government requisitioned Nagoya Zoo for military purposes during the World War and many animals died but the two elephants were able to survive through the efforts of the zoo staff. In 1945, Higashiyama zoo served as a major recreation facility in war-ravaged Japan and the surviving elephants, Makany and Held gave hope to children and boosted the popularity of the zoo. So the Nagoya Zoo considers elephants special.

“That is why we are especially proud to have both Kosala and Anula and grateful to Sri Lanka for sending these elephants,” said director Hiroshi. “Sri Lanka is negotiating to get down a Sea Lion from Higashiyama zoo and despite loads of requests from other zoos, we favour Sri Lanka because of the elephants the Colombo Zoo sent us,” he said.

Anula and Kosala are indeed special, as they can also now understand three languages said the animal keeper through a translator. They still understand the commands they’ve been taught in Sri Lanka – ‘ali bashawa’, but also know some commands in English and in Japanese. Two Sri Lankan mahouts stayed with the elephants during their first few months in Japan and helped the Japanese mahouts get used to the animals.

Anula - beloved friend of Japanese children

Enclosure that keeps elephants warm during winter

The elephants are given different kinds of grass and some fresh plants as fodder. During the winter, it is not easy to find food from Japan, but the zoo imports grass cubes from America to feed the elephants.

The keepers showed us banana plants and fresh leaves similar to our Jak that grows in Japan. Both Kosala and Anula who were about 1 tonne at the time they were shipped from Sri Lanka now weigh about 2 tonnes and look healthy.

Higashiyama Zoo in Nagoya was established in 1937 – one year after Sri Lanka’s Dehiwala Zoo opened. It now houses over 500 animals ranging from koala bears and gorillas to polar bears.

The Nagoya zoo is renovating its premises to make the zoo a bridge between humans and nature. Their plan is to make social animals that usually live in a group to actually form groups, and make the exhibition area as similar to their natural habitat as possible.

According to this new plan, both Anula and Kosala will get a new enclosure five times as big as the present one. The Zoo is also adjacent to a Botanical Garden and recreational facilities, so visitors get a total experience.

WAZA presents Zoos’ contribution to protect Biodiversity at COP10

Zoos are not only animal exhibit centres, but also contribute in protecting biodiversity. The Higashiyama Zoo in Nagoya breeds and conserves at least 50 endangered species such as Western Lowland Gorilla, Orangutans, Great Indian Rhinoceros and the Snow Leopard. The Higashiyama Zoo is also the studbook keeper for Koalas and Orangutans in Japan where they keep the pedigree of individual animals to avoid inbreeding.

Most modern zoos and aquariums today are attempting to move toward conservation efforts. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) presenting their strategic plan at the UN Summit of Biodiversity – COP10 held last month in Japan revealed some practical examples where zoos had helped in the recovery of many species such as the American Condor, Przewalski’s Horse etc.

They are bred and released to the wild. However this is not easy as releasing an animal to the wild needs to be done after careful assessment. If adverse conditions prevail, even the released animals can face the same fate as their doomed cousins.

Gerald Dick, the Chief Executive Officer of WAZA – a global organization which unifies the principles and practices of over 1,000 zoos and aquariums – highlights that some species only survive in captivity in zoos. “Over 600 million visitors annually come through the gates of the world’s zoos and aquariums. So zoos also have a great opportunity to promote environmental education, raise awareness on the need for wildlife conservation,” said Mark Penning – the President WAZA addressing the COP10 side event.

There are two more zoos being built in Sri Lanka – one in Pinnawala and the other in Ridiyagama, so Sri Lanka also has a good opportunity to rethink its role in conservation.

WAZA officers Gerald Dick and Mark Penning at COP10 published on 14.11.2010 on SundayTimes

COP10 – The Biodiversity Knowledge Fair

November 8, 2010

The UN biodiversity summit COP10 held in Nagoya – Japan ended with some important agreements. While the main discussions with official delegates from 192 countries together with European Union who signed the UN Convention of Biological Diversity is happening, there were hundreds of side events been organized elsewhere in Nagoya Congress Centre. These side-events ranging from announcements of results of research to launching of new initiatives on protecting Global Biodiversity made COP10 a ‘KNOWLEDGE FAIR’. The exhibition and freely available publications on Biodiversity in the venue too made sure it a global event of knowledge sharing.

You can read the list of these side events at following link and contact CBD officers for more infomation on anything that you’d like to get more information

Please find some of the pics that captured the moments of these side events and exhibition at COP10. Outcome of some of these important side events will also be covered through this blog in the future…

from the Side-event Media Workshop on Biodiversity

from a BirdLife International side event

from Global Marine protected areas side event

Announcing an alliance on Protecting Biodiversity

A Kakapo made with the wishes by Kids

The Globe with Origamis on Web of Life

A dance on life by youth in COP10

Participants go through freely available publications on Biodiversity







The Entrance of Nagoya Convention Hall at early morning on 29.10.2010.. This area is usually full of activities, but it was deserted at the time I left the convention hall around 5.45 am working overnight to finish my articles. I didn’t wanted to waste my day time at the expense of missing some important sessions for writing, so I had taken the night time to do my writing. Even the next day sessions were dragged passing 6am. Reporting CBD COP10 was not an easy task because I’ve also set an additional objective of using it as a ‘knowledge fair’; but it was the single most event which had given me lots of opportunities to get updated on earth’s Biological Diversity and the need to conserve it..!!

Call for new biodiversity targets

November 2, 2010

Biodiversity Secretariat chief at Nagoya

Biodiversity is key to our survival, but threatened all over the world. All 193 signatories to the United Nations’ Convention of Biological Diversity were in the Japanese city of Nagoya last week discussing ways to halt the extinction crisis which affects life on earth – Malaka Rodrigo reports from Nagoya

Earth is experiencing its sixth mass extinction. Yes, you heard it right. Scientists estimate that in 2100, more than half of the species living in the earth today will become extinct. This time the cause is not external but the activities of one single species that is also part of earth’s biodiversity – Homo sapiens – none other than ourselves.

The 2007 IUCN Red List for Sri Lanka indicated that 21 species of endemic amphibians and 72 of the 1099 plant species evaluated could be considered extinct from the island. Most were endemic. The report also highlights that 223 species of terrestrial vertebrates, 157 species of selected inland invertebrates and the 675 plant species evaluated are categorized as Nationally Threatened. Of the threatened animals, 62% of vertebrates and 61% of plants are endemic to Sri Lanka and thus deserve extra attention. In addition, among the vertebrate fauna, the highest number of threatened species was recorded from the reptiles (56 or 25%), followed by amphibians, birds, mammals and freshwater fish respectively.

In 2002 the world’s leaders who are part of the UN Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) agreed to a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 also coupling it with Millennium Development Goals. The delegates of these countries met in Nagoya, Japan for a 12-day summit known as the 10th Conference of Parties (COP10) to review these targets and set a new strategy to slow down biodiversity loss during the next decade. The Sri Lankan delegates in Nagoya were also reviewing the new strategic plans.

“It is not an easy process. The Convention of Biodiversity has so many points to discuss and 40 items in the agenda are being discussed daily,” said Gamini Gamage, head of Biodiversity Secretariat of Sri Lanka. Protected areas, invasive species, biodiversity & climate change, biofuel, agricultural biodiversity, traditional knowledge are some of these agenda items being discussed.

“The most difficult part of the negotiations has been agreeing on a protocol for Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) where many countries have different opinions,” said Mr. Gamage. ABS protocol links with Genetic Resources and aims to create a legal framework that would give nations much better control over their resources from trees to fungi and from fish to frogs that can lead to cures for cancer or new crops more resistant to climate change. It is said that the users of the genetic resources should do it with the prior consent of the provider communities or countries and the benefit should also go back to the providers.

Gene piracy has been a concern for Sri Lanka where some plants like Binara or Kothala Himbatu are patented elsewhere. “We had many concerns regarding the initial proposals of the protocol, but things have progressed at COP10,” says Mr. Gamage. But the complexity of the issue has had delegates debating until late to come up with an agreement.

“This also highlights the need of having more understanding of these new legal backgrounds,” pointed out Environment Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, who visited Nagoya to attend the high-level meeting together with Central Environment Authority Chairman, Charitha Herath. Addressing the summit, Minister Yapa said the government of Sri Lanka is committed to mainstreaming biodiversity as an integral part of the national planning and accounting process. He has plans for setting up a special Biodiversity Act for Sri Lanka, he added, stressing the subject is becoming complex with elements of economics and law coming in.

Mr. Gamage says the discussions are now mainly turned toward the economic value of the biodiversity and ecosystem services. “The convention was established in 1992 and initially mainly focused purely on conservation aspects. But it evolved into sustainable use of biodiversity and now has begun making an economic case to highlight the value of biodiversity and consequences of its loss,” he said.

Delegates hoped a fruitful agreement and a realistic strategic plan to save Earth’s biodiversity could be achieved before the conference ended on October 29. Time is running out for many species. As the old slogan says; “Extinct is Forever”..!!

The Convention of Biological Diversity

Biodiversity, a contraction of the synonymous phrase ‘biological diversity’, is defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as ‘the variability among living organisms from all sources including, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part including diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems’.

The CBD is one of the three “Rio Conventions”, emerging from the UN Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It came into force at the end of 1993, with the following objectives: “The conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies, and by appropriate funding.” There are currently 193 Parties to the Convention (192 countries and the European Union).

Earth’s valued Biodiversity

Biological diversity – or biodiversity – is the term given to the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms. The biodiversity we see today is the fruit of billions of years of evolution, shaped by natural processes and, increasingly, by the influence of humans. It forms the web of life of which we are an integral part and upon which we so fully depend.

This diversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms. So far, about 1.75 million species have been identified, mostly small creatures such as insects. Scientists reckon that there are actually about 13 million species, though estimates range from three to 100 million.

Biodiversity also includes genetic differences within each species – for example, between varieties of crops and breeds of livestock. Chromosomes, genes, and DNA-the building blocks of life-determine the uniqueness of each individual and each species.

If we do not act today, more than half of Earth’s valued biodiversity will be lost.

Published on SundayTimes (Features section) on 31.10.10 

Meeting the challenges of biodiversity loss

October 31, 2010
Malaka Rodrigo reporting from COP10, Nagoya
The United Nation’s Nagoya Biodiversity Summit (COP10) that started on October 18 with the participation of the 193

'Seal the Deal' at nagoya

signatories to the UN’s Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), concluded successfully yesterday.

The summit which was scheduled to end on Friday was extended until the early hours of the next day due to intense negotiations on some issues, but the signatories adopted historic decisions that will permit the community of nations to meet the unprecedented challenges of the continued loss of biodiversity. The Sri Lankan delegates too had supported the new strategic plan. The next conference of the parties of CBD – the COP11 – will be held in India in 2012 and will be of special importance to Sri Lanka.

Governments agreed on a package of measures that will ensure that the ecosystems of the planet will continue to sustain human well-being into the future. The meeting achieved its three inter-linked goals: adoption of a new ten-year strategic plan to guide international and national efforts to save biodiversity through enhancing the objectives of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, a resource mobilization strategy which provides the way forward to a substantial increase to current levels of official development assistance in support of biodiversity and a new international protocol on access to and sharing of the benefits from the use of the genetic resources of the planet.

The Strategic Plan of the Convention on Biological Diversity or the “Aichi Target,” adopted by the meeting includes 20 headline targets, organized under five strategic goals that address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss and reduce the pressures on biodiversity. In line with these global biodiversity targets, nations will have to make their own targets.

The COP10 summit had 18,000 participants and its main aim was to take measures to protect biodiversity.

Published on SundayTimes on 31.10.2010

Related Article: Call for new biodiversity targets

Sri Lankan Representation @ COP10

October 28, 2010

Environmental Minister - Anura Priyadarshana Yapa addressing the summit

Mr.Gamini Gamage - the Head of Biodiversity Secretariat of Sri Lanka

Damayanthi and Nimal from Centre of Community Development who presented the award winning Yam project from Sri Lanka as a global success story

A bilateral ministerial discussion with Japananese delegates

Minister Meeting of Korean Environment Minister

A Team of Sri Lankans at COP10

Prof.Sarath Kotagama at a BirdLife International event reviewing a document

from UN Biodiversity Conference – COP10

October 28, 2010
Word’s Biodiversity is facing an extinct crisis and UN’s Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) signed in 1992 is meeting in Nagoya, Japan to set a new strategic planning for next decade aiming to protect earth’s biodiversity. Currently 190 countries has signed the Convention and the discussions are underway to adopt a new strategic plan. Following photos are taken during the event.
For more information abou this 10th Conference of Parties (COP10), pls visit 

Flags of the 190 signatory countries of UN's Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD)


Venue of COP10 - Congress Centre

Working group II - the Chair

2010 - the Year of Biodiversity

AHMED DJOGHLAF - the Executive Secretary of CBD

from a BirdLife International event


A press conference

A meeting on progress

A Kakapo bird made out of kids' messages

A message - Save Kakapo

Media covering the event


From an event


Youth power at COP10 - Biodiversity dance

CBD COP10 Begins in Nagoya

October 24, 2010
Malaka Rodrigo reporting from Nagoya, Japan

A 12-day-long summit aiming to address the global biodiversity crisis is in progress in the Japanese city of Nagoya, with representatives from all the 190 signatory countries of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) including Sri Lanka, attending the event.

Sri Lanka who signed the convention in 1992, is already identified as one of the top 35 Biodiversity Hotspots of the World, and the outcome of the summit is also important locally. The Biodiversity crisis already hit Sri Lanka, as the 2007 edition of the Red List of Threatened Species compiled by IUCN, indicated that 21 species of endemic amphibians and 72 of the 1099 plant species evaluated could already be extinct.

The report also categorised one in every two species of mammals and amphibians, one in every three species of reptiles and freshwater fish, and one in every five species of birds in the island are currently facing the risk of becoming threatened in the wild. Of the threatened animals, 62% of vertebrates and 61% of plants are endemic to Sri Lanka, meaning, if they become extinct, it is a loss for the whole world.

This is a worldwide problem and scientists point out that this is the greatest extinction crisis after dinosaurs became extinct millions of years ago. The latest report ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook 3’ published by the CBD, reveals that 875 species have become extinct in the wild, while another 3,325 are critically endangered. The Nagoya meeting titled 10th Conference of the Parties (COP10), aims at adopting a new strategy to take measures to address this biodiversity crisis. (Global Biodiversity Outlook – 3 can be downloaded from following link

Sri Lanka’s official delegation comprises of Environmental Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and the head of Biodiversity Secretariat Gamini Gamage, who will also attend talks on adopting a new regime for Genetic Access and Benefit Sharing Protocol (ABS).

This protocol aims at providing access to genetic resources of the biologically rich countries like Sri Lanka, and became a hotly debated topic at the summit. Bio-piracy is already a concern to Sri Lanka, where some countries patented genetic resources extracted from plants taken from Sri Lanka. The proposed ABS protocol aims at addressing this issue by setting up an international regime to give transparency to the process and give back the benefits to the countries of origin. But Environmentalists in Sri Lanka are sceptic of how the indigenous right will be protected through the proposed regime, the outcome of which will be decided during the talks next week.  Published on SundayTimes on 24.10.2010

Our local ‘roots’ that has gone to COP10

October 19, 2010
Back to roots: Quest for our local Ala – bathala  

October 16 was World Food Day. From Aranayake, Malaka Rodrigo follows an award-winning project which will be presented as a global success story at the UN Summit on Biodiversity (COP10) to be held in Nagoya, Japan this week Jumping over a bamboo gate in Aranayake one day, Damayanthi Godamulla, then a member of a social mobilization project made her way to the home of villager Punchi Appuhami. She was visiting households in Aranayake to promote broiler chicken farms among village folk as a means of livelihood.Damayanthi tried to convince the elderly villager who was in his 90’s of the importance of rearing chicken as a source of nutrition. But Punchi Appuhami was not so keen. “Owa Pawkara weda, Api kapu beepu de enna pennanna” (‘raising chicken for meat is sin, come I’ll show you what we eat’), he said. Leading Damayanthi to his backyard, he showed her the different kinds of ‘wel ala’ – tuber varieties known as yams – that were flourishing there with little attention. There were 17 different varieties of yams in his garden and Punchi Appuhami described their nutritional and medicinal values, surprising Damayanthi with his knowledge. 

Coming from the similar community, Damayanthi immediately realized the potential of these yams to address the nutritional deficiencies of the village folk. During the rest of her social mobilization project she identified other senior villagers like Punchi Appuhami who were still engaged in cultivating traditional roots and tubers. She noticed that among the younger generation, there was little attention paid to these and some varieties were becoming rarer to find. The diversity of the yam varieties was clearly diminishing.

It was against this backdrop, that Damayanthi had later come across a notice on funding opportunities for Biodiversity Projects by the Small Grants programme under UNDP’s Global Environment Facility (GEF). She made a quick project proposal through the Community Development Centre (CDC) she had set up in 1996 to support her own community.

Sri Lanka is a country rich in plant diversity, with a considerable number of edible and non-edible roots and tuber varieties commonly known as ‘yams’ with both indigenous and introduced roots and tuber varieties. The traditional knowledge of the value of these yams is passed on from generation to generation. But with urbanization, this is increasingly being lost and CDC’s project proposal had practical ways to promote the cultivation of yams and hence ensure their conservation. Seeing the potential of the project the UNDP decided to fund it.

This small idea by villagers in Aranayaka has been hailed as an inspiration globally. The roots and tubers conservation programme of the CDC was selected as one of the 25 outstanding winners of the ‘Equator Prize 2008’, bagging its top award. The Sri Lankan project beat other biodiversity programmes in the world demonstrating outstanding work in poverty reduction through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Damayanthi and her colleague Nimal Hewanila, will now present this project as a world success story in preserving biodiversity at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Nagoya this week. “We are happy that we get a chance to make Sri Lanka’s name heard in the international conservation arena,” said Damayanthi.

“It wasn’t easy in the initial stages,” recalls Damayanthi, a CDC directress. Information about yams was traditional knowledge which was communicated from generation to generation by word of mouth and there were no written sources to draw from. The project team started gathering knowledge about the yam varieties from older villagers. “We were amazed by their knowledge. They knew the benefits of different yam varieties which were passed to them by their elders.” For example, the yam known as ‘Hulankeeriya’ is good for stomach ailments; ‘Sewala ala’ is given for pregnant mothers; ‘Kidaram ala’ is good for haemorrhoids; and many other varieties are famous for their high nutritional values.

After collecting the traditional knowledge, the team looked at how to promote cultivation in village gardens. A common problem was the wild boar that has a big appetite for yams. The solution came from the community – to fence off the cultivation areas. Astrological practices were used in setting up these protective fences around the cultivated areas. Villagers believed that would help discourage pest attacks and the CDC too had promoted these traditional customs which built the confidence of the village folk.

One hundred households from ten villages in the Aranayake area were selected for the initial stage of the project. Yams require little attention after planting. The project started with 30 varieties. Some varieties were not commercially viable, but after they heard of their qualities, villagers happily started giving them space in their gardens. The yam project became a success and has now expanded to some 18 villages with the benefits reaching more than 2,000 people. CDC also works in five villages in Dikwella DS division in the Matara district. The villagers are selling the yams, earning a considerable income now.

The team that has identified about 60 varieties of traditional yams are taking measures to conserve them. All these root and tuber plants have unique characteristics including disease resistance and the ability to flourish in less fertile soils. Most of these roots and tubers also have medicinal values and qualities which were identified from time immemorial and passed from generation to generation. “So these indigenous yams should be considered a huge genetic treasure trove,” Nimal Hewanila, a board member of CDC commented.

Traditional knowledge of these varieties also would help in research, and protecting the indigenous yam varieties would help to protect genetic diversity.

The Aranayake community network has also diversified into other traditional food varieties. The Green Leaves project is another such initiative they have begun. “There are about 125 edible green leaves in the country which have different qualities,” Hewanila said.

We worry about the price of bread, but yams are a good alternative. “Yam is the bread of our ancestors, so why not return to it?” asks Damayanthi. Although these traditional roots and tubers were consumed in the past, their role has declined in the recent times. This was a result of the increased cultivation of modern ‘developed’ crop varieties; increased consumption of potatoes and bread consumption, the CDC report states.

Yams can be grown even in small gardens. Different varieties can be harvested at different time durations, so you can plant varieties to get food throughout the year, says Damayanthi. “You can cultivate different varieties getting harvests spread across 12 months,” she says. They don’t need any special attention and at least 10 varieties can be planted in a mere 5 perch plot, she says, urging that they be grown in your backyard.

Quality in 100 g of root/ tuber Type of root/ tuber
Thunmas ala Hingurala Innala Desala Manioc Sweet Potato
Water (g) 73.1 7.6 74.4 7.0
Calories 97.0 97.9 97.0 13.0 145 120
Proteins (g) 3.1 1.3 1.6 2.0 1.2 1.3
Fat (g) 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.3
Carbohydrates (mg) 21.1 18.1 22.6 26.0 38.1 28.2
Calcium (mg) 40.0 16.0 10.0 25.0 33 34
Phosphorous (mg) 140.0 31.1 40.0 40 50
Iron (mg) 1.7 0.5 0.7 1.0 0.7 1.0
Carotene (mcg) 12.0 12.0 400
Thiamine (mg) 90.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 0.06 0.10
Ribo (pg) 30.0 30.0 10.0 30.0 03.0 0.05
Thiacene (mg) 0.4 0.4 0.2 1.0 0.03 0.05
Vitamin (mg) 1.00 17.0 5.0 360 200 published on SundayTimes on 17.10.2010

Biodiversity for Ethnic Harmony

October 7, 2010

For the first time since the launch of the programme “Preserve Heritage for Tomorrow” in 2006, students from the north get a chance to learn about the amazing biodiversity of the Sinharaja rainforest 

In the silence after an unexpected downpour at Sinharaja Rainforest, the birds that had taken refuge in the thick foliage started coming out one by one. The Orange-billed Babbler was one of the first to be spotted. “Enna kuruvi (what’s that bird)?” queried a puzzled lad pointing at the reddish bird. “Rathu demalichcha” came the answer from one of the instructors, understanding the question only by her body language.Asokan, a coordinator of the programme translated the name to Tamil, so that the student could identify it. But no matter- despite the language hitches, this group of Jaffna students was fascinated by the amazing rainforest biodiversity unfolding before them. 

Lessons in the wild: A complete rainforest experience.

Pix by S. Sriharshan

The Sinharaja Tropical Rainforest is the most famous wilderness in the country. “I have long dreamt of a day I would get a chance to visit Sinharaja Rainforest,” said a thrilled S. Sriharshan – a Tamil student who together with 20 fellow students and six teachers from the Mahajana College, from Tellipalai – Jaffna made the trip south. These students were the first batch from the north to take part in a residential workshop “Preserve Heritage for Tomorrow” organized by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) together with Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT).

Since 2006 ten schools have been selected for this programme each year. Extending it to Jaffna schools was a landmark, for the organisers.

“It is my first rainforest experience and I saw lots of rare plants and animals,” said N. Thuvaraga. This was in fact the first time these students from the north had visited a rainforest or spent a night in the south of Sri Lanka. The children in the war ravaged north indeed had very little opportunity to engage in such nature study activities. There are no rainforests in the North and East, and even the little patches of jungle were restricted due to security reasons during war time. Using binoculars would have definitely invited trouble. So the children’s fascination was understandable.

“It was really an unforgettable experience for all of the students,” Vaani Muhunthan, a teacher from Jaffna’s Mahajana College said.

“Preserve Heritage for Tomorrow” is the brainchild of Prof. Sarath Kotagama who has been spearheading research in Sinharaja since the 1980s. “This programme is aimed at creating a generation of exemplary citizens to act as environmental ambassadors,” he said, looking back to its launch in 2006. Mahajana College Jaffna was the 35th batch to participate in the programme where the logistics are all taken care of.

A tour from Jaffna to Sinharaja involves lots of travel time, so the usual three-day programme was extended by another day. Prof. Kotagama who had conducted most of these workshops together with a FOGSL team recognized that the Jaffna students were hungrier for knowledge compared to the other students.

The “Preserve Heritage for Tomorrow” comprises mainly of field studies in Sinharaja Rainforest and classroom lectures in a wilderness setting. The field activities are lined up to let students recognize the value of a rainforest and emphasize the need to conserve this biodiversity hotspot.

The adaptations of Dip tip of leaves to rainforest conditions, study of the pitcher plants to understand the animal plant inter-relationship and food exploitation in a rainforest through the study of mixed-species bird flocks are some of the field studies done during the programme.

An activity to compare the different levels of biodiversity recorded from substituted Pinus forest, secondary forest grown in the logged area and pristine primary forest lets students understand the value of protecting the remaining primary rainforests of the country and why Sinharaja is listed as a World Heritage site. They also get an opportunity to sharpen other soft skills – like report writing, aesthetic skills, techniques to face exams and team working abilities.

Lack of literature was however a problem, as most of the students from the north only read Tamil. This problem was also faced by Sinhala-speaking students decades ago; no proper field guides for birds were available in Sinhala until FOGSL published the first comprehensive Sinhala bird guide ‘Sirilaka Kurullo’ in 1989.

The students enjoyed most of the new experience except the leech bites. They had rice for all three meals instead of the chapattis or thosai their mothers would make back home. They’ve got a chance to learn from Martin Wijesinghe, the Sinharaja veteran who has spent his entire life in the rainforest and met other Sinhala speaking villagers, instructors, forest rangers.

“It was nice to meet and mix with Sinhala friends,” said V. BHagawathi, one of the Jaffna students reflecting that Natural Heritage too can be a tool to build links of peace in this country.

Some unique Sinharaja features

Drip tip: An elongated leaf tip from which excess water drips off, as found in plants of the rainforest.
Mixed-species bird flocks: Birds in Sinharaja move as a bird flock. Sometimes about 40 species are recorded in these flocks.
Pitcher plant: This plant traps insects in order to get the nutrients it needs.

Published on 03.11.2010 on SundayTimes 

IYB for Kids: Friends in the ocean

August 25, 2010

This is the part 7 of ‘Explore Biodiversity with Kids’ series dedicated to the International Year of Biodiversity. Puncha & Panchi – the curious siblings explore biodiversity around them..

“Look Aiya.. there is somebody similar to Crush, the turtle in the cartoon,” Panchie shouted, seeing a board with a picture of a turtle. Crush was a cartoon character in the film ‘Finding Nemo’, Panchie enjoyed very much.

Puncha too remembered the cartoon. “But are there turtles in these beaches Thaththa..?” Puncha wanted to know. “Do you want to see turtles..?” asked Prof. Uncle who was driving the car. “Yes.. Yes… Please uncle, PLEASE”, brother and sister shouted together. Prof. Uncle stopped the vehicle near a large board with “TURTLE HATCHERY” on it. Puncha and Panchie hurriedly got down.

“This is a turtle hatchery where little turtles are kept for a few days,” explained Thaththa to the kids, showing them a large tank with little turtles swimming around. They had small shells and were afloat, constantly paddling to catch their breath.

“The sea turtle is a reptile and has to come to the surface to breathe air,” said Prof. Uncle. “But they can also stay under water a long time holding its breath”.

A sea turtle hatchling
An adult sea turtle
Turtles arrive at an Arribada nesting site

Panchie had taken a baby turtle in her hand and took a closer look at it. “It is good to release these baby turtles to the sea, but they have to wait a few days in these tanks,” Prof. Uncle said.

“Where is their mother..?” Panchie wondered. “The mother turtle does not stay with its babies Panchie. It comes to a beach at night, digs a hole and lays dozens of eggs. Then the mother covers the eggs using sand and goes back to the sea”, Thaththa explained.

“After a few days the eggs are hatched and the little turtles usually hurry towards the sea. But unfortunately some bad people dig the turtle nest and steal the eggs”. Puncha and Panchie were sad when they heard this and vowed they would never eat turtle eggs.

“Some turtle varieties like the Olive-ridley turtles visit certain beaches during a certain period to lay eggs in thousands. Some of them migrate across long distances to reach the egg laying grounds known as arribadas”.

“Some bad people also kill the adult turtles. Because of these cruel acts, the turtle has become a threatened creature,” explained Prof. Uncle. The poster on the wall near the turtle tanks explained that there are five turtle species visiting Sri Lanka to lay eggs. They are the Green Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle,
Hawks-bill Turtle, Leather-back Turtle and Loggerhead Turtle.

The poster said that most of these turtles are ‘Endangered’ or ‘Critically Endangered’. “This means that if we do not protect turtles and their habitats, they will all soon vanish from the seas. Do you want that to happen kids..?” asked Prof. Uncle. “No.. No.. WE MUST PROTECT OUR TURTLES,” said both Puncha and Panchie at once. Published on FundayTimes on 22.08.2010

Explore biodiversity with Kids – Oceans of Life

June 30, 2010

This is the part 6 of ‘Explore Biodiversity with Kids’ series dedicated to the International Year of Biodiversity. Puncha & Panchi – the curious siblings explore biodiversity around them..

It was a Sunday evening. Their parents had taken Puncha and Panchie to the beach. They were enjoying building a sand castle on the beach, when Panchie spotted a strange hole in the sand.

“Aiya.. Aiya.. Have you seen that hole..? Look!” Panchie shouted to her busy brother. She had also

spotted some movements and started running toward it.

“There is also something in it Aiya,” Panchie yelled to hasten her brother. Even though there was nobody to see, the stranger had left some tiny footprints all over the sand. After a careful search, Puncha
managed to spot the stranger who made the footprints.

It was a tiny crab that was very similar to the colour of the sand. Puncha was curious, so he had a closer look. “Hey Panchie – the crab has ten feet,” he whispered.

Puzzled by what the kids were looking at, father too came up to them. “Yes, all the crabs are called decapods because they have 10 feet. The first two have developed as claws and are called Cheliped,” explained father. “Crabs are also invertebrates that do not have a backbone, but have a protective shield around the body called the exo-skeleton”.

“Look… there is a different crab,” Puncha pointed at another odd looking crab that had retracted the body into its shell. Father picked it up in his hand. “This is a Hermit crab, Puncha”, father identified the little fellow still hiding in the shell.

“Hermit crabs do not have a hard shell. So it finds an empty sea shell and transforms it into a mobile home carrying it on its back. When they feel in danger, Hermit crabs retract its whole body into the shell”, father explained the mysterious behaviour of the Hermit. “When grown, the Hermit crab discards its old shell and finds a new home – another spacious sea shell!”

Goose Barnacles Goat’s Foot (Bim Thamburu)

Mussels on a log

Fascinated by the crabs found on the coast, the family kept on walking along the beach.

They came across a large log that had washed ashore last night. It was covered by Mussels attached tightly. There were hundreds of them. “Are they still alive Thaththa..?” Panchie questioned.

“Yes, they are still alive. Can you see the fleshy body part of this mollusc that lives in the sea..?” father asked, pointing to the mouth of the shells. These are also called Bivalves because they have a shell consisting of two asymmetrically rounded halves called valves.

They are mirror images of each other, joined at one edge by a flexible ligament called the hinge”, father said. With the help of Puncha and Panchie, father threw the log back into the sea, so that the mussels too could enjoy the sea.

Grass in the sand

They had also observed a vine like grass that spread around the sandy beach. Before questions came from the kids, father volunteered to explain what it was. “These are called Goat’s Foot or ‘Bim Thamburu’. Look at the shape of the leaves – it really looks similar to a Goat’s Foot,” father explained to the kids.

Hermit crab
A crab hole and footprints.

“Unlike other plants, these can grow under the effects of salt water. Goat’s Foot plants also help to keep the sand on the beach tight, so that other plants can start growing. Without these, it will take a longer time for vegetation to come out in the beaches”, father explained the importance of the plant.

The walk on the beach made both the kids thirsty, so they were thrilled to see an ice cream seller who came to the beach. Already there were a few kids, enjoying ice cream – but they had already thrown the polythene wrappers of the ice cream onto the beach.

“That’s bad,” commented father. “This polythene will be washed into the sea and it will not be good for the health of the oceans. Sometimes these might be eaten by the creatures of the oceans and they will also get sick. So never pollute the beaches or throw anything bad into the ocean,” father advised the kids.

Both Puncha and Panchie kept their wrappers safely, until they found a garbage bin to dump them.

The crab, mussels and Goat’s Foot plants are all parts of the coastal ecosystem, but there are more creatures that live in the oceans… Stay in touch with your friends – Puncha and Panchie for more news about them… published on FundayTimes – the Kids’ supplement issued with SundayTimes on 27.06.2010

Corals under bleach attack

May 16, 2010
Marine scientists stress the need to monitor our reefs in the East Coast
The International Day of Biological Diversity falls next Saturday, May 22. With the UN’s latest Global Biodiversity Outlook report highlighting corals as the species most at risk, marine specialists are warning that corals in Sri Lanka face a new threat – Malaka Rodrigo reports
Have you taken a shower in the middle of the day these past few months and winced at the heat of the water gushing through in the first few minutes? The intense heat is not just affecting us, it is affecting corals – the delicate organisms in the sea that are exposed to the sun all day long.“We have seen early signs of coral bleaching in the East Coast recently,” says Prasanna Weerakkodi, a marine environmentalist and regular diver who showed us a series of photos taken during a dive two weeks ago near Coral Island and Pigeon Island. The corals are pale in colour or have turned completely white. Some corals are deep purple and that too is an early sign of bleaching, he says, warning that about 50% – 60% of the corals in Pigeon Island and nearby Coral Island are partially bleached while about 5% are completely dead.

Bleached corals on Coral Island.(Pix by Sajith Subhashana)

Coral reefs are known as rainforests of the ocean considering their rich biodiversity and are the breeding grounds of many fish. Corals in Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Galle, Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa are reportedly being affected according to other divers.

Coral bleaching occurs when coral polyps, the organisms that build corals, shed the algae (zooxanthellae) that gives them their colour. These tiny algae live in harmony with the corals and provide food for the host through the process of photosynthesis. Without this algae, the coral looks pale white and the coral polyps can be exposed to ultraviolet radiation. Without food, oxygen or cover from dangerous rays, the coral polyps in the reef will die a few weeks after they start getting paler. Our corals show signs of entering into the first stage of such a bleaching explains Mr. Weerakkodi.

Coral scientists believe warming waters are the most likely cause of these bleaching events. The Indian Ocean experienced its worst coral bleaching in 1998 due to a warm oceanic current. The Sea Surface Temperature (SST) of some parts of the Indian Ocean had gone up due to the La Nina climatic phenomenon at that time and resulted in warm oceanic currents killing pristine coral reefs in many parts of Sri Lanka, including the Hikkaduwa coral reef that is still to recover. However, the corals in the East Coast escaped the 1998 coral bleaching.

According to recent Sea Surface Temperature data, it is now around 32 C where the normal average temperature should be around 28 C. This increase could have triggered the bleaching. A regional warning of a possible coral bleaching has been issued. Sri Lankan marine biologists are also in touch with their Maldivian colleagues.

If the sea’s temperature goes down, or cool upswells come to the rescue, healthy corals also have the ability to recover. “It is too early to say whether this will develop into a full-scale coral bleaching event as happened in 1998. But it is important to monitor the phenomenon,” Mr. Weerakkodi pointed out.

Marine biologist for the National Aquatic Resources Research & Development Agency (NARA) Arjan Rajasuriya, recently reported some dying corals in reefs near Galle. After the severe bleaching of 1998, corals in many areas in Sri Lanka showed temporary bleaching during the months of April/May/June when temperatures are high. Some corals die, but others recover after the conditions return to normalcy. However, if the warm conditions prevail for long, it could be deadly. Arjan recalls the coral bleaching in 1998 had occurred during April/May and within a few weeks it sealed the fate of many coral reefs like those in Hikkaduwa.

Nishan Perera, another marine specialist, who was diving at Trincomalee a few weeks ago, verified the bleaching of corals and reported severe bleaching in the Dutch Bay area. This year the early part of the monsoon was a bit slack which might have contributed to this situation, he feels. “If conditions become normal soon it should not be a problem, but otherwise there can be some coral mortality,” he says.

Can anything be done? “Keeping the corals healthy is the only way to fight this global phenomenon,” says the NARA officer. Corals that are not healthy lose the ability to adapt to changes in their environment. Frequent fishing, pollution from land-based sources, dynamiting reefs, and sedimentation are other threats to the reef ecosystem which reduce their ability to withstand a catastrophe like bleaching.

Visible bleaching at Pigeon Island

Ocean Acidification is the latest threat added to this list. Acidification is a phenomenon linked to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide dissolved in the ocean reacts with the water to form carbonic acid. Many oceanic ecosystems such as coral reefs are adapted to a narrow range of pH levels and increases in these levels can be catastrophic.

Marine experts also say it is important to pay more attention to the corals in the East coast. “The West coast is experiencing the monsoon these days which will cool the seas a little, while regular cloud cover will also reduce the heat,” Arjan says. But the East coast is not so fortunate and is also experiencing new threats. Pollution and over-fishing were not problems earlier as the Eastern and Northern seas were restricted due to security reasons, but this is changing after the war and over-visitation is already causing problems to fragile marine national parks like Pigeon Island.

Save the wrecks

On May 2, the Sunday Times reported a racket involving the removal of scrap from ship wrecks off the Eastern seas. NARA’s Arjan Rajasuriya points out the wrecks are now jungles of coral and have become a spawning ground for fish.

Destroying them will destroy budding corals as well as harm the fisheries industry. “This is like killing the hen that lays the golden eggs,” said Arjan highlighting the value of these wrecks. They could even be a tourist attraction, so keep them intact, appeals the marine biologist.

Corals heading towards rapid extinction

The Global Biodiversity Outlook report backed by IUCN’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature) data shows coral species are heading most rapidly towards extinction, while Amphibians are on average the group most threatened.

According to the Red List Index shown in the graph, a value of 1.0 indicates that all species in a group would be considered as being of Least Concern (not expected to become extinct in the near future) and a value of 0 would indicate that all species in a group have become extinct.

Published on SundayTimes on 16.05.2010

Many Species. One Planet. ONE FUTURE

May 10, 2010

It is only recently that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) failed to enforce a ban on trading Endangered Bluefin Tuna. The effort aimed at saving the marine fish from extinction, but does this failure means there is no Future for Bluefin Tuna..?

Let’s visit Atlantic Ocean in-search for answer. There you would observe large fishing vessels hurriedly catching Northern Bluefin Tuna.

Bluefin tuna is being over-fished and its numbers can’t be sustained

But do these fishermen harvest to fulfill their own hunger..? No – fishermen freeze and bring Tunas to the harbor, which will then be transported to various Sushi and Sashimi restaurants.

YOU may visit one of these restaurant and order a delicacy of Bluefin Tuna knowingly or unknowingly accelerating the demise of a threatened species. Perhaps, YOU may think that as it is only few pounds of fish, it is negligible. But what if the visitors on other tables too have ordered the same..? So it is YOU as a CONSUMER who is ultimately responsible for Tuna extinction by creating demand. But it is again YOU who has the real power to give a Future to the troubled fish.

Still confused how somebody eating in a restaurant far away from Atlantic Ocean can save the fish..? Let’s look at the events in reverse order…

YOU visit one of the Sashimi restaurants with friends. Waiter suggests a dish with Bluefin Tuna. “How are you sir?. This Bluefin Tuna is our special for the day. Its really a tasty fish..!!” But knowing its endangered, YOU refuse the dish. YOU tell the reason for the refusal to all your friends and others in the restaurant. So FRIENDS and OTHERS too refuse Tuna. Without orders, the Bluefin Tuna in theestaurant freezers go wasted. The owner will not buy the Bluefin Tuna from the harbor anymore as it is not profitable since demand has gone down. Fishermen too will then find it unprofitable fishing for Bluefin Tuna and STOP catching them..!!

Likewise power is on OUR own hands individually as CONSUMERS to save the FUTURE of MANY SPECIES which live in OUR PLANET. Think of Elephants killed in Africa for ivory, Edible-nest swiftlets for their nests, Sharks for their fins, Conch for their shells, Tigers for their skin, Whales for their meat. The real power in saving these species is lying on OUR hands individually as citizens of the Earth.

Plant Trees on World Environment Day (WED)

Quality of Earth’s ecosystems is depleting, but what about our closest eco-system – home garden..? Many different varieties of Birds, Dragonflies, Squirrels, Frogs still find our backyard a safer haven. But trees and bushes they can survive on are removed day by day. So why not plant a tree on WED on your garden, school or workplace..?

“ahh.. It would be only one tree.. How would that make an impact”. If you are skeptical, check UNEP’s Billion Tree campaign. Target was to plant 7 billion trees at end of 2009, but at the end 7.4 billion trees were planted.

Has this been done by UNEP itself..? Not at all – it is collective effort of individuals like YOU and ME from 170 countries. Imagine the amount of ecosystem services like cleaning of oxygen, helping other species to survive rendered by these billion trees..?

So on this World Environment Day, take a conscious decision individually say NO to threatened species as consumers and go for suppliers promoting sustainability. Also plant a tree taking actions on individual level to save threatened species and help depleting ecosystems. It is OUR individual actions when multiplied can make a difference to the planet. After all, WE share ONE FUTURE..!!

Ends. (599 words)

Celebrate WED – Daily Do Something Tips


Biodiversity in the National New Year

April 25, 2010

Puncha and Panchie had visited their village to see Achchie and Seeya for Avurudu. They got a chance to see nature’s Avurudu messengers…

The visit to the village to see Seeya and Achchie is the favourite Avurudu trip for both Puncha and Panchie. After getting the blessings from the elders, the siblings ran to the garden to use the Avurudu onchillawa (swing) tied to a large kadju tree.

Male Asian Koel

Panchie sat on the swing and asked Aiya to give a push. While enjoying the swing, she heard a bird singing a lovely song.

“Khuu.. Khuu… ” Panchie
wondered what bird sang so beautifully.

“Aiyo Panchie, don’t you know even that..? It is a koha – the cuckoo bird which sings to welcome Avurudu. Can’t you remember a pair of them visiting our garden too..?”

“Hmm is it..??” Panchie was still doubtful. Puncha ran to their car to bring his binocular. It had taken a few
minutes for him to spot the bird singing behind a kadju branch.

“There it is..!!” Puncha managed to show the singing koha to Nangi. It was a glossy black bird. “Hmm.. But why are they singing only during the Avurudu season Aiya..?” Panchie asked. Even Puncha was not sure.. Whether the koha is a migratory bird that visits Sri Lanka only during a certain period of time from a different country had puzzled Puncha too.

But luckily Seeya came to his rescue…
“The Koha is a native bird in
Sri Lanka, but this is one of its
breeding seasons. The male koha (Asian Koel) sings to its mate during this Avurudu period to express his care,” explained Seeya.

“But where is his partner..?” Pancha tried to spot the female Koel.
Adjusting the specs, Seeya looked over the kadju tree. “There is the female Koel.” Seeya showed the bird to his grandchildren. The female had spots all over her body which looked different to the male.
“Show me their nest.. Show me.. Seeya,” Panchie was curious.

“Ha..ha.. Panchie, the koha doesn’t build a nest. Instead they lay eggs in the nest of a crow. While the male koha distracts the parent crows, mother koha secretly lays an egg in the crow’s nest. Crow parents feed this stranger, thinking it is their young until it grows big,” Seeya explained. “This is called Brood Parasitism”…

“Hmm.. Brood … what..?” Panchie found it difficult to pronounce.
“Look, the female koha is eating
something,” Puncha was the first, to spot something reddish in Koha’s beak.
“Ahh… ha.. Koha is eating a cashew fruit,” looking through the bino, Puncha said. The fruit looked so tasty.

“Do you also want a fruit ?” asked Seeya while plucking a low-hanging cashew apple. Avurudu period also is the Kadju puhulan season.

Panchi wanted the first bite. “Be careful, it is so juicy and can spoil your clothes,” Seeya warned.
“The seed of all the other fruits are inside, but why is Kadju different..?” The strange look of the Kadju
puhulam puzzled Puncha.

Kadju puhulam

“Infact the kidney-shaped nut is the real seed of the Kadju puhulam. The cashew apple is just a false fruit which is a modified fruit stalk,” showing a tender fruit, Seeya said.

He had taken out a small pen knife and cut the cashew apple into a few pieces. Achchie brought a plate of salt and they start eating the pieces of cashew apple, applying salt.

“Hmm… it is really tasty Seeya,” Panchie wanted another piece. “Do you know it has lots of Vitamin C in it – as much as five times more than in an orange..? When we were young kids, there were lots of Kadju trees”. Seeya told them that eating Kadju was one of their favourite pastimes during the Avurudu season.

“Seeya.. Seeya..

I want to see an Erabadu flower,” Panchie also remembered another messenger of Avurudu.
“Come.. This way…” Seeya had taken both Aiya and Nangi towards the edge of the garden. “Here, this is Erabadu,” said Seeya showing a large tree with a thorny skin. The tree had bright red flowers similar to Tiger’s Claw.

“Erabadu is the real messenger of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year as the flower blooms in this period of time,” Seeya said. “Though it looks a useless tree, Erabadu flowers have nectar that birds like to feed on. Its tender leaves are also made as a curry in the villages.”

“Seeya, why can’t these nature symbols of Avurudu be seen in our area now..?” Panchie was sad she couldn’t get Erabadu or Kadju puhulam in her area.

“Hmm… yeah, Panchie – most of these trees were cut. But Kadju and Erabadu are Nature’s New Year
messengers together with the Asian Koel, so you need to keep in mind that these should be protected…” Taking the hands of Puncha and Panchie, Seeya started walking back to the house.

Published on 25.04.2010 on FundayTimes under 2010 Year of Biodiversity series

Snowy wonderland of Trondheim

April 11, 2010

I had just stepped out of the airport bus and started walking toward the hotel with my new-found friend from Yemen who was attending the same conference in Trondheim, Norway. It was -10oC- freezing cold, but I was thrilled to have my first experience of snow.

Keeping my luggage aside, I bent to touch the snow… and that was it! I slipped and fell. Though my finger was hurt, I quickly got up and started walking again. My friend couldn’t stop laughing, but soon it was my turn to laugh when he went rolling down with two big suitcases.

Yes, that was my first experience of snow. I learnt that snow is very slippery indeed. You need special shoes to walk on this icy surface, but everything was expensive in Norway and buying a pair of shoes for just a week wasn’t an option.

But beside the slippery part, my experience of snow, the city of Trondheim and its people this February was a pleasant one.

Receiving an invitation to participate at the 6th Trondheim Conference of Biodiversity organized by Norway in collaboration with UN Convention of Biodiversity, it was a multicultural experience for me with over 300 biodiversity experts from nearly 100 countries at Trondheim.

Trondheim was the first city of Norway and remains its third largest today. Traditional houses in Trondheim are built using timber and there are plenty of these wooden buildings in the municipality. They were painted either yellow or red and most of them stand proudly by the river that flows across the city. The harbour is located in the city’s heart reminding us that the ancient Vikings lived on this land.

Trondheim’s ancient Nidaros Cathedral built in 1070 is also an icon of the city. It has an ancient pipe organ that still works perfectly. The conference organizers had also arranged a dinner at Trondheim Archbishop’s Palace where the mayor was present. Norwegian fish was the highlight of this dinner – there were salmon, mackerel and herrings served in different ways.

We spent the day listening to biodiversity experts exploring various issues, but the cold nights belonged to us for exploring the city. Trondheim was experiencing an extended winter and was fully covered by snow which added a mystic beauty. But the freezing wind penetrated any lightly covered body parts and covering one’s face was the biggest problem.

Rizwan Irshad from Pakistan had become my buddy in exploring this unknown landscape. A wolf researcher, he would come out on our night walks clad in a light jacket. “Remember, I followed the Pakistani wolf in cold mountains. So it is not a big deal for me,” he shrugged.

There were also three delegates from Spain whom we always met somewhere on the road during our night walks. I named them the three musketeers. A group of South American delegates too joined us and we walked along the snowy roads exploring the beautiful landscapes of the city until it was very late.
There was much more to explore in Trondheim, but this snowy dream had soon to end and it was a sad goodbye to my new friends and the beautiful city of Trondheim.

Biodiversity for Kids -> National Icons

February 7, 2010

Sri Lanka’s 62nd Independence Day is celebrated on February 4. Puncha and Panchie are curious about the lion in Sri Lanka’s flag, and also want to know more about our National Flower, National Bird and National Tree…

Father came home early that day, after casting his vote, and was looking for something.

“Amma.. where is our National Flag..?” Father asked.”Check the cupboard,” replied Amma, who was busy making their lunch.

Panchie was curious. “Why are you suddenly looking for the National Flag Thaththa..?”
“Hey, Panchie… We celebrate our Independence Day on February 4th, every year, “Thaththa said, as he found the Flag and unfolded it.

“We should hoist the National Flag at our houses to mark Sri Lanka’s independence which we got in February 1948”, explained Thaththa while dusting the flag. “Why do some people call it the Lion Flag?” Panchie had another question.

“Ah Panchie… It is called the Lion Flag, because there is a lion printed on it,” Puncha who came from nowhere teased Panchie as usual. “A Lion..? I like them, because I heard they are so brave,” said Panchie.

“I’ve seen them on TV. They look beautiful with fur around their head.””Yes, that is called a Mane. But only the male lions have it,” explained Thaththa. “The lion is called the king of the jungle.””Will they catch us if we go to the jungle Thaththa?” Panchie was worried about their Professor Uncle who always went to the jungles to find out more about animals.

Na (Iron wood): Mesua ferrea

“No Panchie, we do not have lions in Sri Lanka. The lion in the flag signifies that we are a proud nation as brave as a lion,” Thaththa clarified.

“The lion was the symbol on the flag of Sri Wickrama Rajasingha – who was Sri Lanka’s last king – and we started using it as our National Flag with a few additions, at the time we got independence,” Thaththa explained.

“The lion also carries a sword to show its bravery,” Puncha added more to the discussion. “Thaththa, our teacher said that we have a National Flower too. Is it true?” Now Puncha was curious.”Yes, the Nil Manel or water lily is our National Flower. It is a bluish, star-shaped flower that grows in lakes. It was named our National Flower in February 1986,” Thaththa said.

Wali Kukula (Sri Lankan Jungle fowl): Galus lafayettii

Wali Kukula (Sri Lankan Jungle fowl): Galus lafayettii

“Remember the flowers we took to the temple to worship Lord Buddha..? That is Nil Manel,” he reminded both kids. Panchie loved the mild fragrance of the Nil Manel flowers. “Nil Manel is a symbol of purity and truth.”

Nil Manel (Water Lily): Nympheae stellata

“We also have a National Bird and a National Tree. Hasn’t the teacher told you about it..?” Amma, also joined their conversation.

“Yes.. yes.. I’ve forgotten,” Puncha now remembered what he had learnt last week at school. “The Na tree (Iron wood) is our National Tree and the Wali kukula (Jungle fowl) is our National Bird,” he was quick to add.

“Very good… Now come here, I will show you a Na tree,” said Amma, showing them the neighbour’s Na tree that could be seen from their kitchen. “Why are some of the leaves different Amma..?” asked Panchie seeing a mix of reddish and greenish leaves.

“Well, Panchie, the tender Na leaves are reddish in colour, but become green when they grow older,” Amma explained. Panchie had also seen the
neighbour’s rooster on the wall.

“Aiya… aiya… there is our National Bird… Come quick,” Panchie shouted.
“No Panchie, that is not a Jungle fowl. It is just a normal domestic rooster. The Jungle fowl lives only near jungles,” Puncha did not tease his sister this time.

“Because it is an endemic bird that can be seen only in Sri Lanka, we call it the Sri Lankan Jungle fowl,” Puncha knew a lot about birds. “I don’t understand Aiya.. that is also a fowl isn’t it?” Panchie was confused.

Puncha brought his school book. “Look Panchie, this is a Jungle fowl. Can you see it has a bright yellow and orange crest on its head, unlike the domestic rooster,” Puncha pointed out.

“But why do we need a National Bird, National Tree or a National Flower, Thaththa..?” Panchie asked.
“Well, most countries have symbols to show their uniqueness. It is also a respect to the unique
biodiversity of each country,” Thaththa said. “For example, the Sri Lankan Jungle fowl is an
endemic bird that can be seen only in our country and the Na tree and Nil Manel are culturally unique to our heritage,” Thaththa clarified.

After dusting the National Flag, Father gave it to Puncha, to be hoisted in readiness for Sri Lanka’s Independence Day.

Planting a tree on January 1, 2010 to commemorate the International Year of Biodiversity

Thivyan Suresh, St. Peter's College, Colombo 4

Claudia Reginald, Good Shepherd Convent, Kotahena