Archive for the ‘Wetlands’ Category

Save Kirala Kele, a cry from environmentalists

February 22, 2017

In December, a Baillon’s Crake a rare migratory bird to
Sri Lanka was spotted in Kirala kele (c) senehas karunarathna

With World Wetland Day being celebrated on Thursday (February 2) bird lovers here have called to protect the Kirala Kele wetland that recently made headlines due to the sighting of a record number of migratory birds.

Kirala Kele in Sinhala means ‘forest of kirala trees- or a ‘mangrove forest’. It covers an area of 1,800 ha with 310 ha of it being designated a wetland located at the exit of the Southern expressway in Godagama about three km from Matara town.

In December, a Baillon’s Crake a rare migratory bird to Sri Lanka was spotted in Kirala kele. The bird was seen in a particular area of the wetland, and bird watchers flocked to the wetland to see this rare bird. Subsequently more rare migratory birds such as the grey-headed lapwing, turtle dove, comb duck, marsh and even the greater spotted eagle were sighted in a small stretch of the wetland.

Kirala Kele earlier came under the purview of the Southern Development Authority. It was deemed a sanctuary in 2003 and declared as a conserved area under the ‘Sri Lanka – picturesque sites programme’ by a special gazette notification. Kirala kele is made up of different types of wetlands – marshland, mangrove areas, paddy lands, and irrigation canals – as well as numerous home gardens as it borders populated villages. Several encroachments are visible in many areas and concerned environmentalists have brought to attention the urgent need to protect it.

Ruhuna University’s Prof.Saman Chandana Ediriweera who has been researching the biodiversity of Kirala Kele for several years says, ” the area is an ideal wetland habitat for many organisms and can be considered as one of the most valuable conserved areas in the Matara District.” According to a study conducted by IUCN Sri Lanka, 83 plant species, 25 species of fish and 13 mammal species including the endemic Purple-faced Leaf Monkey inhabit Kirala Kele. The study recorded 103 bird species of which 48 were wetland birds and with the recent sighting of rare birds the number would be higher, Prof. Ediriweera said.

He warned that recent human activities within the premises of sanctuary would prove harmful to the ecosystem. He identifies garbage dumping, removal of vegetation, hunting, spread of invasive weeds as major threats to the wetland. Prof. Ediriweera says authorities should take immediate steps to curb these threats and save Kirala Kele wetland.

As Kirala Keleis a protected area, and now in the absence of a Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) field office in Matara,    it  comes under the purview of the field office at Kalamatiya.

Other migratory birds like the turtle dove was also spotted
(c) Moditha Kodikara Arachchi

Meanwhile Kalamatiya wildlife ranger Uthpala Adaranga said they regularly visit the sanctuary, but as private lands can exist inside a ‘sanctuary’, they are powerless to stop activities within the sanctuary that could be inimical to its ecosystem. In addition Kalamatiya is located about 50km away from Matara, posing a difficulty to monitor this protected area regularly. Environmentalists in Matara have highlighted the need for a DWC office in Matara so that quick action could be taken when the need arose.

In addition to being an important habitat in 2010 a plan was initiated to promote Kirala Kele as a tourist attraction with World Tourism Day celebrations being held in Kirala Kele. But the drive to promote it as a tourist destination didn’t last long.

Published on 05.02.2017

The saltie that terrorised Rawatawatte

September 18, 2015
Neighbours woken in the wee hours by the news that a croc had entered their garden hoped it was just a bad dream. Malaka Rodrigo reports 
A resident of Dharmaratne Avenue in Rawatawatte, Moratuwa, was returning home after his night shift around 2 a.m. when his van’s headlights picked out something that looked like a slowly moving log. Disturbed by the sound of the vehicle the “log” came to life, lunging to the side of the road and entering a neighbour’s garden. The resident got home and told his father, D. Perera, who telephoned and alerted the neighbour to the presence of the trespasser.

The police were called on 911 and with the Pereras and their neighbours began a search with torches. Soon the trespasser was found, lost and equally or more terrified than the search party – a 7.2-foot saltwater crocodile. The police and residents managed to corner the croc near a wall and called the Department of Wildlife Conservation. One person also alerted a croc expert, Avishka Godahewa, who lives close by. Mr. Godahewa, a member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Crocodile Specialist Group, is permitted by the Department of Wildlife Conservation to handle wild crocs.

Guess who came to the garden? A 7.2-foot saltwater crocodile

Guess who came to the garden? A 7.2-foot saltwater crocodile

With the department’s approval, he rushed to Rawatawatte to take care of the intruder. Although a fearsome predator, the Rawatawatte croc was a frightened beast in unfamiliar, hostile territory.

After checking out the croc, Mr. Godahewa decided how it should be captured and carried out the rescue mission with the assistance of his father. The croc was not tired and had plenty of fight left in it, so capturing it was not an easy task as the onlookers’ safety had also to be considered; the whole neighbourhood had by now gathered to see the croc. Mr. Godahewa tied up the crocodile and took it quickly to a safe croc habitat. As soon it was released the croc rushed to the water in relief at returning to familiar territory.

Sri Lanka is home to two species of crocodile: the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) or geta kimbula in Sinhala, is larger than its cousin, the mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) or hala kimbula. The Sri Lankan population of saltwater crocodiles is considered endangered and some of the wetlands such as the Weras Ganga and the Lunawa lagoon in Colombo are the last hideouts of this species in the Colombo suburbs. Hence, even though it is a feared creature, it is important to protect the remaining individuals.

“I was woken by the SOS call from a panicked neighbor,” he said of that day, August 29. “I don’t call them nuisance croc calls but croc rescue calls as otherwise terrified people continue harassing the crocs, even killing them,” he said.Twenty-year-old Avishka Godahewa, the youngest member of the IUCN’s Crocodile Specialist Group, has so far rescued about 10 crocodiles from the Rawatawatte area.

Dharmaratne Avenue is a highly residential area and the nearest water source is about 300-400 metres away. The crocodiles have a habit of leaving their waterholes at night to go in search of food or other waterholes, Dr. Anslem de Silva, the country’s foremost expert on the reptiles, said.

Three more crocs were rescued in Ambalantota in the Hambanthota District in the past few weeks. One had trespassed into a home garden close to its waterway while the other two had become entangled in fishing nets laid in a small village tank, the Nonagama Wewa. All three were mugger crocodiles. Wildlife officers caught them safely and released them to the Udawalawe tank.

Capturing the crocodile was not an easy task

‘Gaddafi’ catcher was here to train local croc hunters

Steve Irwin’s famous Crocodile Hunter episodes shown on television made catching a croc look easy but it is an extremely dangerous job: a simple mistake could cost the hunter a limb or his life. 

To help Department of Wildlife Conservation officers learn how to catch and rescue trapped or straying crocodiles training seminars were held recently led by internationally-acclaimed crocodile hunter, Peter Prodromou.
Mr. Prodomou has worked in Uganda with Nile crocodiles. He became famous for catching a killer croc called Gaddafi that accounted for three lives in Uganda. Before catching this croc, Peter used methods such as placing a dummy of a human child to check which croc attacked first in order to single out the culprit responsible for the attacks. 

In Sri Lanka, soon after an attack, people hurriedly put out bait to catch a crocodile that comes close to the area. While this might snare the real culprit as crocs are usually territorial, there is a higher chance that one that is not responsible for the attack gets caught.
During the training, Mr. Prodomou showed the wildlife officers easier techniques such as using floating baits to catch a nuisance croc. The training was organised for the DWC by Avishka Godahewa, together with his brother, Avinda, and a colleague, Mafas Mohammed, both of whom are also members of the Crocodile Specialist Group. 

from the training on how to catch a croc

Published on 13.09.2015 on SundayTimes on

Wilpattu certified as a wetland of world importance

February 10, 2013

The Wilpattu game reserve was recently named Sri Lanka’s sixth Ramsar Wetland, a name give to ecologically significant wetlands around the world. The Ramsar Convention, to which Sri Lanka is a signatory, is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. Bundala was Sri Lanka’s first Ramsar wetland, followed by Anawilundawa, Madu Ganga, Kumana and the Vankalai Sanctuary.

Dr. Lew Young handing over the Wilpattu Ramsar Certificate to H. D. Ratnayake

On February 2, World Wetland Day, Dr. Lew Young, senior advisor for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands for Asia and Oceania, handed over the Wilpattu Ramsar Certificate to H. D. Ratnayake, director general of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC).

During his visit, Dr. Young met officials responsible for protecting the country’s wetlands. He also gave a public lecture on the importance of wetlands and how they play a role in regulating the water we consume. This year’s Wetland Day theme, “Wetlands Take Care of Water”, is aligned with the United Nation’s Year of Water Cooperation.

Dr. Young said he and his colleagues were not aware that a road was being illegally constructed across the Wilpattu national park at the time the Wilpattu reserve was being considered for Ramsar endorsement. “But now that Wilpattu has been declared a wetland of international importance, it is all the more important that we protect Wilpattu,” Dr. Young said.

Wilpattu is on the northwest coast of Sri Lana and is the country’s largest and oldest national park. During the war, terrorists infiltrated the game reserve, killing the park warden. After the war, Wilpattu was again in the news when a controversial road linking Puttalam and Mannar and cutting across the national park was opened to the public. Environmentalists say the road is hazardous to wildlife and violates the Flora and Fauna Ordinance. Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) has filed a case and the matter is before the Supreme Court.

“The Ramsar Convention promotes the sustainable use of wetlands, but balancing conservation and development is always a challenge,” Dr. Young said. Declaring Wilpattu a Ramsar wetland is only the first step. Wetland management involves setting up committees to monitor the well-being of Ramsar wetlands. These committees may include government agencies, adjacent communities and environment groups who are stakeholders of the sites.

Wilpattu has a total of 205 water bodies, natural and manmade, within its perimeter. Wilpattu is home to a unique habitat known as the “villu,” natural depressions in the land that will fill up with rainwater during the monsoon. The villus are havens of biodiversity. They attract waterfowl and other bird species, as well as wild animals, including elephants. Elephants in this part of Sri Lanka are said to be larger in size than the average Sri Lanka jumbo because they feed on nutrient-rich grasses growing in the villus.

The Wilpattu Ramsar site extends beyond the boundaries of the national park to the ocean front to include the rich coastal and marine habitats of Kalpitiya. Seagrass beds, mangroves, salt marshes, swamps and floodplain forests contribute to the area’s rich biodiversity. The park is home to 21 endemic vertebrate species, including the endangered Sri Lanka leopard (Panthera pardus ssp. Kotiya). The site once supported a thriving agricultural civilization, and 68 archaeologically important sites have been identified.

Other wildlife experts and conservationists present at the Ramsar ceremony were Dr. Channa Bambaradeniya; Manjula Amararathna of the Department of Wildlife Conservation; Udaya Sirivardana of the Ceylon Bird Club; Dr. Pradeep Nalaka Ranasinghe, Dr. Suranjan Fernando of the Centre for Applied Biodiversity Research, and Gamini Samarakoon.

Published on SundayTimes on 10.02.2013

Wilpattu named as Ramsar Wetland

February 2, 2013

Today – the 2nd of February is World World Wetland Day. Good news is that Wilpattu named as Sri Lanka’s 6th Ramsar Wetland. Here is a little writeup published on Web Version of SundayTimes yesterday..!! 

Wilpattu National Park will be declared a Ramsar Wetland. Plans are underway to make this declaration on World Wetland Day whcih  falls tomorrow (Feb 2).

Sri Lanka signed the Convention on Wetlands in 1990 also known as the  Ramsar Convention to honor
the Iranian city where the importance of wetlands was highlighted. Bundala has become sri lanka’s
first Ramsar wetland followed by Anawilundawa, Madu ganga, Kumana and Vankalai Santuary. Wilpattu will be Sri Lanka’s 6th Ramsar Wetland.
Some 205 water bodies, both natural and manmade exist in Wilpattu national park. Special wetlands
known as ‘villus’ are the most unique feature of the Wilpattu national park which have also contributed its nameWillu-pattu meaning ‘Land of Lakes’. These villus are special habitats providing refuge for many animals including migratory birds, elephants and reptiles. Wilpattu also has a rich history which is believed be one of the initial civilizations of the country.
By – Malaka Rodrigo. Pic by Vimukthi Weeratunga

Confiscated tortoises were ‘pets’, says Chinese restaurant owner

February 2, 2013

The 14 tortoises seized during a Police raid on a Chinese restaurant in Thimbirigasyaya, Colombo, have been handed over to the Dehiwala Zoological Gardens until the investigation is completed. The raid followed a complaint that cooked tortoise flesh was being served to diners.�

Shells of soft-shelled Terrapin: Considered a delicacy

Hard-shelled Black Terrapin – Gal Ibba (Melanochelys trijuga). Pic by Sameera Karunaratne

Soft-shelled Terrapin – Kiri Ibba (Lissemys ceylonensis)

Star Tortoise (Geochelone elegans)

The restaurant owner, a Chinese national, was arrested and released on bail. He told the Police that the tortoises were being kept as pets. The tortoises were found in the vicinity of the restaurant kitchen.

Killing a tortoise or possessing tortoise flesh is an offence under the Fauna and Flora Ordinance of Sri Lanka.

The tortoises are Black Tortoises or Black Hard-Shelled Terrapins, also known as “gal ibba”in Sinhala, according to Sameera Suranjan Karunarathne of the Dehiwala Zoo-based Young Zoologists’ Association (YZA). The tortoises are also referred to as Black Turtle. The gal ibba can grow to more than one foot in length. Mr. Karunarathne said the seized tortoises were full-grown animals and could be up to 10 years old. Tortoises are famous for their longevity, a fact that is of little consequence to those who regard tortoise flesh as a culinary delicacy.

There are also two subspecies of the Black Tortoise, one being endemic to Sri Lanka, said Mr. Karunarathne, who is a reptile expert. The endemic subspecies is rare and found only in parts of the North Western Province. The 14 seized Black Tortoises included the endemic subspecies.

Animal welfare groups and the Police believe that tortoise flesh is in demand in Colombo and towns outside Colombo. They say the growing numbers of Chinese nationals visiting Sri Lanka for work and travel have given rise to an illegal trade in tortoise flesh.

Sri Lanka is home to three varieties of native tortoise. Besides the Black Tortoise, we have the Soft-shelled Terrapin and the Star Tortoise. The soft-shelled terrapin, known as “kiri ibba”, is also a targeted species.�

The Star Tortoise, or “tharu ibba”, is popular as a pet. The tortoise is also a favourite among racketeers who smuggle animals out of the country. The Custom’s Biodiversity Protection Unit has thwarted several attempts to secretly export Star Tortoises.

Sri Lanka’s tortoises are doubly threatened, says animal lover and herpetologist Dr. Anslem de Silva.

They are threatened by greedy diners and profiteers, as well as by natural threats such as climate change. The mud holes that are natural tortoise habitats are drying out.

The Star Tortoise is a “near threatened” animal species, according to the National Red List.

Meanwhile, the Red-eared Terrapin, imported for aquariums, has started spreading in the country’s waterways. A native of North and South America, the Red-eared Terrapin is regarded here as an “invasive” species.

Published on SundayTimes on

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.

Gota promises clean, green city

October 21, 2012

IEPSL president reminds importance of development going hand-in-hand with environment

The Government wants to make Colombo a cleaner, greener city, Defence and Urban Development Ministry Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in his address to the annual sessions of environmental professionals.

“We need to develop clean, green, people-friendly cities. The environment needs to be preserved so that people can enjoy the beauty of this country’s natural greenery and abundant waterways,” Mr. Rajapaksa said at the opening ceremony of the 6th Annual Sessions of the Institute of Environmental Professionals of Sri Lanka (IEPSL), last week.

Highlighting the projects already underway to clean up the city he said the Beira Lake project included the unblocking of gates, tributaries and output channels while unauthorised settlements and buildings around the area will be removed.
Mr. Rajapaksa added under the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project financed by a World Bank loan unresolved long-standing issues such as the problem of flooding and drainage in the city will be rectified. The city’s drainage infrastructure, including its micro drainage channels, primary and secondary canals and lakes will be improved under this programme, he elaborated.

Mr. Rajapaksa said under the Resettlement of Underserved Settlements Project of the Urban

Prof.Hemanthi Ranasinghe

Development Authority, some 70,000 families living in poor conditions in the city will be relocated and given housing in high rise buildings, designed and constructed to acceptable standards.

According to the Defence Secretary these buildings will come up in the vicinity of the residents’ original homes, so that they would not have to find new jobs or different schools for their children. He said 10,000 housing units are currently being constructed while moves are afoot to expand this by a further 15,000 next year.

Addressing the gathering IEPSL president Prof. Hemanthi Ranasinghe reminded those present that any meaningful development had to go hand-in-hand with environmental well being, adding that the institute had selected ‘Urban Regeneration and Environmental Balance’ as the theme of its sessions this year to highlight this important aspect as many new development projects were currently underway.

Published on SundayTimes on 21.10.2012

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

Wetlands support us all

February 27, 2011
Kumana was recently named as Sri Lanka’s 5th Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. Curious Puncha and Panchi explore the wetlands this week..!!
“Wetlands are wastelands.. Wetlands are wastelands..”
a rhythmic phrase found on a piece of paper made Panchi interested. However, her brother – Puncha found this murmuring irritating.
“Stop nangi.. That is wrong.
It should be read as Wetlands are NOT Wastelands,” Puncha corrected.
But she wanted to irritate her brother more.
“Wetlands are wastelands..
Wetlands are wastelands.”
“NO, WETLANDS ARE NOT WASTELANDS!” Puncha got really annoyed and shouted this time.
Hearing their dispute, Seeya
“Well.. Wetlands are infact not wastelands. Look Panchi, you’ve missed something,” Seeya pointed out the missing part of the sentence on the piece of paper to Panchi.
“But Seeya, aren’t wetlands just useless lands full of mud..?” Panchi remembered one of her visits to the Attidiya Wetland nearby, where her shoes were ruined by mud.

“Well.. Wetlands are areas of land that are covered with water for all or part of the year. They look useless, but wetlands provide lots of silent services,” Seeya started to explain the value of the wetlands.

“Wetlands can be thought of as giant sponges. They absorb water from many different sources during wet periods, and release it slowly into the surrounding areas during dry periods. In this way, wetlands can help to reduce flooding, ease the impact of drought and recharge groundwater supplies.”

“Do you know wetlands are also called ‘nature’s kidneys’ because they clean water?” Seeya asked the attentive kids.

“One way that wetlands clean water is by filtering out excess nutrients. Nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen can enter the water system from
agriculture and industrial development which can seriously pollute water, harming the life that depends on it including us.”

“Little.. little creatures, plants and friendly bacteria that live in the wetlands can trap, breakdown or absorb these nutrients,” Seeya explained. “Wetlands also trap soil that runs off with rain water. This is important because it helps to purify the water, as well as lessen the impact of soil erosion. Water held in wetlands seep slowly back into the groundwater deposits after getting purified and filtered. This process makes sure of a supply of clean water which we get from wells.”

“So wetlands are for water as well as water is for wetlands. They are also helpful to face effects of droughts and floods due to Climate Change in future.”
“There are lots of birds in the wetlands too Seeya,” Puncha
remembered the birds they had seen at Attidiya and how much they had enjoyed the nature. “Yes, not only birds – wetlands are home to lots of animals and plants – Wetlands are indeed hotspots of biodiversity.”

“Seeya – what is a Ramsar Wetland..?” Puncha
remembered something he had heard at school at the
World Wetlands Day which was
celebrated on February 2.
“Realizing the value of the wetlands, countries got together at a city called Ramsar in Iran, in 1971 to sign an agreement. These countries agreed to
protect wetlands.The Ramsar Convention this year celebrates 40 years of caring for wetlands.”
“The Ramsar Convention also names a global network of wetlands for sustaining people and our
environment. Do you know we have five Ramsar Wetlands in our
country..?” – asked Seeya.

“Yes.. yes.. Kumana is a Ramsar wetland,” Panchi remembered what her parents were talking about a few days back. “Yes, the Kumana coastal areas are Sri Lanka’s latest Ramsar site. Bundala, Madu Ganga, Anawilundawa and Vankalai are our other Ramsar wetlands.”

“Hmm… Aiya it is true. WETLANDS ARE NOT WASTELANDS,” Panchi corrected herself. “Yes; Sharing, as well as the wise use of wetlands here and now is very important,” Seeya stressed.

Published on FundayTimes issue with SundayTimes on 27.02.2011

Bird paradise Kumana declared a globally important wetland

February 21, 2011

Kumana Wetland Cluster that falls within two existing protected areas, Yala East National Park and the Panama-Kudumbigala Sanctuaryhas been declared a wetland of global importance under Ramsar Convention last week. Kumana became the 5th and the largest Ramsar site in Sri Lanka.

The Ramsar Convention, or the Convention on Wetlands (named after Ramsar, Iran, where the treaty was signed in 1971) is an inter-government agreement that commits member countries to maintaining the ecological character of important wetlands.

Extending over 19,000 hectares in the Ampara district, the Kumana coastal stretch falls within two protected areas – the Yala East National Park and the Panama- Kudumbigala Sanctuary.

The site is famous as a paradise for birds. Nearly 50 per cent of Sri Lanka’s bird species are found here, and serves as a feeding and resting ground for more than 35 species of migratory aquatic bird species.

The site is also an ideal feeding and resting habitat for a number of other threatened wetland species, including nine bird species, 10 mammal species, and 11 reptile species. The Green Turtle, the Loggerhead Turtle and the Olive Ridley Turtle – globally threatened turtle species – nest on Kumana beaches.

However, Sri Lankan conservationists say human activity is undermining the Kumana wetland. Illegal hunting and logging and the plundering of archaeological resources in the area have taken their toll.

Also, fishermen have destroyed vegetation in the Kumana Villu to facilitate their fishing, while invasive species such as aquatic salvinia, the exotic fish tilapia and the feral buffalo have had a harmful impact on the wetland.

The Kumana wetland is the country’s largest Ramsar site, after Bundala, Madu Ganga, Anawilundawa, and Vankalai.

The Department of Wildlife Conservation and a team of Sri Lankan scientists and conservationists lobbied to have Kumana declared a globally important wetland. The scientists included wetland professional Dr. Channa Bambaradeniya; Suranjan Fernando, of the Centre for Applied Biodiversity Research and Education (CABRE); Udaya Siriwardana of the Ceylon Bird Club; Dr. Pradeep Nalaka Ranasinghe; Gamini Samarakoon, and the Ramsar Focal Point of Department of Wildlife Conservation Manjula Amararathne.

Published on SundayTimes on 20.02.2011