Something fishy?

  • Muthurajawela’s mangrove rape may cause serious environmental problems, warn environmentalists and wildlife officials
By Malik Gunatilleke, Pix by Saman Kariyawasam

Unauthorised clearing of around five acres of a mangrove island in the protected Muthurajawela sanctuary will result in irreparable damage to the land, environmentalists say, while the Wildlife Conservation Department has warned of its harmful impact on indigenous and migratory birds that flock the wetlands.

The clearing of the mangrove had reportedly started on December 23 last year and had been carried out by the Coast Conservation Department (CCD) that comes under the Ministry of Fisheries. The reported reason behind the clearing up was a flood control project.

However, the Wildlife Conservation Department (WCD) claims that prior permission to clear the land inside a protected sanctuary had not been sought nor given.

The protected area including the land within the now cleared area, hosts around 449 different species of animals including 33 indigenous species. Furthermore, around 86 species of resident birds have been recorded in the area, while 43 species of migratory birds also frequent the sanctuary, the WCD says.
Sajeewa Chamikara Project Manager of the “Sri Lanka Sobha Sansadhaya” environmental group, that closely monitored the incident said, this area was home to some rare species of butterflies, birds, amphibians and reptiles while the destruction of such fertile ground could prove harmful in the future to the bio-diversity of the area.

“This mangrove area in the Negombo bay acts as feeding grounds for birds and breeding grounds for water dwelling animals and fish because it provides still waters and natural security for its eggs,” he said.

Mr. Chamikara said the mangrove area prevents flooding, although the destruction of the area was purportedly carried out for a flood control project. “Mangrove areas act like sponges in the water, constantly containing water levels and filtering it. When you destroy these mangroves the flooding only worsens,” he warned.

He said, this destruction would also affect the local fishermen in the area as the fish population would dwindle due to the destruction of their breeding grounds. He added that this sort of destruction was rampant even outside the protected areas where the local hotel industry was looking to rapidly expand its operations.

An eye-witness in the area who had reportedly first sighted the illegal activity last year, said that a backhoe from the Fisheries Ministry was used to clear the area while temporary huts had been erected for the men at work.

Part of the area stripped of mangrove.

Three days after the project began last year, the WCD had been informed of the clearing up and officials who visited the site then put an end to the destruction. Five people were taken into custody at the site while the WCD confirmed that two others including Fisheries Minister Felix Perera’s Brother Tennyson Perera, and a hotelier in the area, were arrested but subsequently released on bail.

Upali Padmasiri, the Assistant Director of the Law Enforcement and Operations division of the WCD told The Sunday Times that the WCD was taking legal action against the perpetrators and had been ordered to clear the area of any structures or huts.

“The project was conducted by the people of the CCD with some equipment from the Fisheries Ministry on the pretext of a flood control project but even then they need to get prior permission from the WCD to clear any land in a protected zone,” he said.

He said necessary legal action would be taken against the illegal act while the culprits had been banned from entering the area. He added that those who were involved had also said that the project was to facilitate a fisheries access road to help the local industry. He said the culprits’ claim that the area cleared was outside the sanctuary boundary was false.

“The way in which they have cut the canal within this area is not towards the Muthurajawela area so this could not have helped the flooding in the area anyway,” he said.

Muthurajawela: Popular tourist attraction
One of the temporary huts put up for the workers

He said that five people including the driver and four helpers were taken in for questioning on the spot while Tennyson Perera had also been found to have assisted the project. However, Tennyson Perera told the Sunday Times that there had been a misunderstanding between the parties involved which resulted in his name being entangled in the affair.

“The people from the CCD had taken one of my boats with four of my people to take them to this island. I was not directly involved in this project and it was just my boat that was at the scene,” he said. He confirmed that he subsequently made a statement on the incident while four of his helpers were taken in for questioning.

“My hotel is nine miles away from this site so I have no intention or any plans to build a hotel here. I, like other hoteliers in the area, care about the mangroves and we provide tours to these areas as well,” he said.

Mr. Perera said he believed that the CCD had the authority to undertake such a project but he wasn’t sure whether they had requested permission from the WCD.

Meanwhile, Central Environmental Authority (CEA) Media Secretary A. Muthumali confirmed that the project needed the permission of the WCD while the CEA was not informed either. She too feared that the unauthorized destruction in the area could have irreversible ill-effects on the land.

CCD awaiting authorisation to go ahead with project

Even though the Coast Conservation Department falls under the purview of the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Ministry Secretary G. Piyasena said this incident regarding the clearing of the area did not come under its purview, adding that the Coast Conservation Department had been directly involved in it.

Meanwhile, the only comment that CCD director H.N.R. Perera made was that while the court case was pending due to the CCD not getting prior permission from the WCD last year before the clearing began, the CCD was awaiting necessary authorization from WCD to continue with the flood control project.

Bio-diversity statistics of the area

Species type
Total Species
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