Archive for the ‘Mangroves’ Category

Unsung eco-warrior gains long-due protection

March 15, 2020 published on SundayTimes 08.03.2020 

Vidattaltivu mangrove forest in Mannar district (c) EFL

A hugely underrated eco-warrior is only now gaining national protection with the first steps being taken to safeguard existing mangrove forests and reclaim lost growth.

Forest Officer Devanee Jayathilaka’s courageous stance in protecting a mangrove patch in the Negombo lagoon has brought welcome media attention to the issue, speakers at this week’s National Workshop on Community-Based Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Restoration said, revealing crucial first steps to protect Sri Lanka’s mangroves.

Mangroves absorb more atmospheric carbon than other trees, making them a critical asset in the fight against global warming.

“The 2004 tsunami was an eye-opener about the importance of mangroves, which protect coastal areas from sea surges by absorbing the raging power of the waves,” Mala Amarasinghe of the Kelaniya University’s Botany Department said. “There were many reports of mangroves protecting villages from the tsunami.

“Mangroves are full of life because they also attract other biodiversity. They are good breeding grounds for fish because their root system provides perfect protection for small fish from predators.”

The Mangrove Task Force approved by Cabinet on January 20 has produced a Mangrove Conservation Policy, the head of the Environment Ministry’s Biodiversity Secretariat, Padma Abeykoon, told the conference, organised by Sri Lankan Youth Climate Action Network Trust.

Gaining approval for the policy was an important milestone, Dr. Sevvandi Jayakody of the University of Wayamba said, explaining that mangroves are seen as areas to be “developed” rather than conserved.

Another problem was that mangroves are considered nobody’s baby as mangrove patches in different parts of the country came under different agencies.

The Forest Department is now working to get the mangroves under its network of protected areas, the department’s Deputy Conservator, Nishantha Edirisinghe, said. He said 76 mangrove patches were declared forest reserves in 2019, with plans to include 12 more this year.

“Sri Lanka set a mangrove restoration target of 10,000ha by 2030. We have already initiated this programme and started a pilot project attempting to restore a few plots of abandoned shrimp farms that were previously mangrove lands,” Mr. Edirisinghe said.

Research in 2017 found that about 1,000-1,200ha of mangroves across 23 project sites have been under restoration.

Dismayingly, the failure rate is huge: only 200-220ha showed successful restoration; nine out of 23 project sites had no surviving plants. Only three sites – Kalpitiya, Pambala, and Negombo – showed a level of survival higher than 50 per cent.

Fresh threats to mangroves were revealed by environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardane when he informed the conference about renewed attempts to gain approval for a shrimp farm in Wedithalathivu, in Mannar, which harbours one of the country’s largest mangrove forests and was declared a Nature Reserve in 2016.

Just a year after being declared a protected area, the National Aquaculture Development Authority proposed that a 1,000ha industrial park for farming fish, crabs and exotic shrimp species be established there, involving a fishery with a history of failures across Asia, and a record of widespread destruction of mangroves. That plan is now being pushed again. Mr. Gunawardane said.

Fire at garbage dump at Muthurajawela adjacent to a mangrove patch (c) Dinusha Nanayakkara

Island sanctuary for critically endangered Hog Deer

January 11, 2013

A Hog Deer in safe hands

Last year was not a good year for wildlife and the environment, so it was good to start the New Year on a positive note with a happy environment story.

As part of a conservation programme, two female Hog Deer were released on an island in Lunu Ganga last weekend. The animals were transported in wood crates from the Hiyare Wildlife Rescue facility to Bentota in the back of a double cab, and then by catamaran to their new island home. The release was arranged by the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle (WCSG), in association with the Department of Wildlife Conservation.

The Hog Deer (Axis porcinus), known locally as “Wil Muwa” or “Gona Muwa”, is the country’s most threatened deer species. The rare animal lives in isolated pockets between Benthara and Galle.

Infant Hog Deer bottle-fed by WCSG members

The Hog Deer rehabilitation and rescue programme began in 2009 at the Hiyare Wildlife Rescue facility, with support from the Nations Trust Bank. The Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle has rescued many injured Hog Deer from their original habitats in Elpitiya and Balapitiya. Hog Deer live in marshy habitats and have adapted to cinnamon estates, a common feature in that part of the country. Unfortunately, their intrusion into human habitation has resulted in many road accidents.

Young Hog Deer are easy prey to dogs and water monitors (kabaragoya). Female Hog Deer keep their new-born hidden in the tall grasses that grow around marshy land. The two Hog Deer released into the Lunu Ganga were attacked by water monitors in separate incidents. They were only a few weeks old when they were handed over to the Wildlife Conservation Society Galle a year ago. One had a fractured leg and was treated at the Hiyare Animal Welfare centre. The baby animals were first bottle-fed and then hand-fed with grasses and plant shoots.

Looking for a good place to release the animals, the Wildlife Conservation Society Galle heard about an island in the Benthara Lagoon that was ideal habitat for Hog Deer. Jagath Gunawardane identified the island,

Adult male Hog Deer injured in a road accident is treated

zTaking the Hog Deer on boat in Lunu Ganga

Taking the Hogdeer to Lunuganga island

known to locals as “Hon Duwa”, which was gazetted as a wildlife sanctuary in 1973. Over the past 18 months, the Geoffrey Bawa Trust and the Wildlife Conservation Society have been preparing the one-and-a-half acre island by growing plants that Hog Deer eat.

Dr. Tharaka Prasad of the Department of Wildlife Conservation told the Sunday Times that the island is ideal for Hog Deer as it combines scrub jungle, swamps and mangroves. The department has attempted to breed Hog Deer at the Horagolla national park, but with no results so far.

The Hog Deer is on the 2012 Red List as a critically endangered species.

Published on SundayTimes on 06.01.2013

Who brought the rare animal to Sri Lanka?The Hog Deer (Axis porcinus) – “Wil Muwa” or “Gona Muwa” in Sinhala – is a critically endangered deer species that lives in isolated pockets between Benthara and Galle. The deer species is believed to have been introduced to Sri Lanka. The animal is not found in South India. The deer may have been accidentally or deliberately unloaded when Galle harbour was used as transit point in early colonial times. Madura de Silva, president of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle, says that even if the Hog Deer were an introduced species, it could adapt during a century of living in isolation.

Habitat loss is the Hog Deer’s main threat. The species was believed to have become extinct when a few animals were spotted some decades ago.

Encroachments undermine Muturajawela wetland

March 12, 2012

About 50 acres of land belonging to the Muturajawela Sanctuary and its buffer zone have been illegally sold, with the backing of a local politician. The land sale is not only illegal, it endangers protected terrain, say Raveendra Kariyawasam of the Centre for Environmental Studies, and Sajeewa Chamikara of the Environmental Conservation Trust.

Greed for land ruins nature’s balance: Unauthorised development activity mars and scars fragile wetland system.

Muturajawela is linked to the Negombo Lagoon, and together form an integrated coastal wetland system of high biodiversity and ecological significance. This ecosystem is one of 12 priority wetlands in Sri Lanka. In 1996, 1,777 hectares in the northern section were officially declared a wetland sanctuary. Closer to Colombo, Muturajawela attracts developers who see the area as barren land suitable for urban, residential, recreational and industrial development. In recent years, large unprotected tracts in the Muturajawela wetland have been filled with sand and used for agricultural, commercial and residential purposes. Waste from these industries has been diverted to the marshland.

A plot of 10 perches was sold for Rs. 40,000. This land is in the Wattala Secretariat Division, close to Bope and Neelsirigama. The village Neelsirigama is built on filled land in Muturajawela. This land, which was developed by a politician, gets flooded in the rainy season, causing great hardship to the residents. In 2004, further illegal distribution of lands was stopped by a court order. In 2009, environmentalists protested when developers attempted to build a hotel in the area. The hotel project was cancelled.

While some say the lands sold lie outside the main protected area, environmentalists insist that any development would have a negative impact on the fragile ecosystem. Professor Sarath Kotagama, a leading ecologist, said the main threat to Muturajawela was sedimentation. He was speaking on wetland conservation at the University of Colombo. Prof. Kotagama was a national coordinator for the Asian Wetland Survey conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) in 1987-1988.

Maps drawn after a study conducted by the International Water Management Institute indicated that the depth of the wetland was being reduced by sedimentation. Sediments generated from land use in the area ends up in Muturajawela.

The value of wetlands is often challenged by politicians and economists who say land, including wetlands, near populated cities should be used for commercial purposes. A wetland is not a wasteland. It serves important environment functions.

In 1999-2000, an economic valuation of Muthurajawela was carried out by Lucy Emerton and Bhathiya Kakulandala, on behalf of the International Conservation Union (IUCN). The survey was carried out to document the significance of Muthurajawela as an urban marsh, as it was severely threatened by haphazard development and human encroachment.

Subsequent to the biodiversity assessment, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) conducted an economic evaluation of Muthurajawela, focusing on its ecosystem services. The purpose of the assessment was to impress on policy makers the importance of conserving this urban marsh and the adjacent Negombo lagoon, said Dr. Channa Bambaradeniya, who was with the IUCN at the time of the study.

If the wetland service is not there, great damage would be caused to the infrastructure by floods. The wetland also supports fish breeding, fisheries and agriculture based on wetland. Leisure and recreation, nutrient retention and waste water treatment, water supply and recharge, are some of the economic values, the study pointed out.

A plot of land is marked by an owner

A destroyed habitat at Muturajawela

A temporary hut built on marsh

published on SundayTimes on 11.03.2012

Sound of axe rings death knell for Lanka’s forests

January 3, 2012
2011 ends and 2012 begins with the destruction of yet another mangrove forest.
The past year, 2011, was declared International Year of Forests by the United Nations. The message was sent out to all countries. Sadly, this message has not been taken seriously in Sri Lanka. Last year was not a good year for forests here, and the year ended with the news that yet another forest is being destroyed – one of the few remaining mangrove covers in Puttalam.

Mangrove land cleared and filled in Puttalam for hotel project.

A five-acre plot of mangrove along the west coast, in Kurukapane, Arachchikattuwa, in Puttalam district, is being cut down to make way for an 80-room hotel. The hotel will be built by a Colombo-based hotel group.

According to Sajeewa Chamikara, of the Environmental Conservation Trust (ECT), much of the mangrove covering has been cleared and filled. No Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report was obtained for the project, which makes the cutting of the mangrove covering illegal, even if the land is privately owned.

Under the law, any construction project covering one hectare and above requires an EIA evaluation.
There is a general misconception that mangroves are of no value. Most of these mangrove lands do not have a clear ownership.

The Kurukapane mangrove forest is state-protected land, and comes under the purview of the Forest Department. This stretch of forest, previously under the Divisional Secretariat control, was officially made the property of the Forest Department in a special circular sent out by the Ministry of Environment in 2001.

The Divisional Secretary for the area had written to the Forest Department, asking it to intervene and stop the destruction of the Kurukapane mangrove forest. But no investigation has been conducted by the Forest Department. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Puttalam district has the country’s largest mangrove cover, at 3,210 hectares, but these areas are under heavy pressure from development activities.

The boom of shrimp farms in Puttalam and Kalpitiya in the ’90s resulted in widespread destruction of mangroves. Most of the shrimp farms have been abandoned.

Residents, mostly fishermen, are doing their bit to save these mangroves. Villagers who did not want their names mentioned said the hotel company project has the “backing” of local politicians.

2011 was one of the worst years for the environment

The past year – 2011 – will go on record as one of the worst years for the country’s environment, with increased destructive activity. The Dole banana farm, which encroached on the Somawathiya National Park, adjoining the Sinharaja, Bogahapattiya-Soragune golf course, was only one of the many environmentally destructive activities that were highlighted in 2011.

Environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardane said the number of environmentally destructive activities, the amount of damage done by these projects, and the unseen political “backing” that usually accompanies environmental destruction, all increased in 2011.

Mangrove Cover in Coastal Districts

District Hectares
Puttalam 3210
Jaffna 2276
Trincomalee 2043
Batticalo 1303
Kilinochchi 770
Hambantota 576
Mulativ 428
Gampaha 313
Galle 238
Ampara 100
Colombo 39
Kalutara 12
Matara 7

Published on SundayTimes on 01.01.2012