Declare the Waratenne-Hakkinda area in Getambe, close to Kandy, an environmentally protected zone, the Harispattuwa Pradeshiya Sabha (PS) has urged the Central Environmental Authority (CEA).
Explaining that the stretch of the Mahaweli Ganga below the Peradeniya bridge and above the Katugastota bridge is the habitat of not only aquatic plants but also some species of fish not found anywhere else in the world, PS Chairman Ananda Jayavilal has pointed out the need to protect this area from environmental degradation.
The unanimous decision of the PS to request the CEA to declare this a protected zone follows a major discussion among members on the urging of the people, he says in a letter to the CEA in April.
The Sunday Times in two strong articles headlined ‘Now vital aquatic plants face similar fate as fish’ on August 7, last year, and ‘Near-extinct fish face death by dynamite’ on July 24, last year, highlighted the destruction of this area close to the Seemamalakaya on the Peradeniya-Katugastota Road, due to blasting with dynamite for the groundwork for a mini-hydro project.
It was researcher Pradeep Samarawickrama who re-discovered the gadeya or Green Labeo (Labeo fisheri), a freshwater fish, at Waratenne four months before the blasting began. It had been assumed that the gadeya usually found in the Mahaweli system at Polgolla and near Victoria may be extinct due to its habitats being submerged and changed with the construction of dams under the accelerated Mahaweli Scheme.
It was also Mr. Samarawickrama who was perturbed when he picked up the dead and decomposed fish, victims of the dynamiting, and led a campaign to protect the humble gadeya’s home at Waratenne.
The blasting has been temporarily halted following a visit at that time by Environmental Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa and also due to legal action being filed by villagers in the Kandy District Court.
According to the 2011 Global Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): “L. fisheri has been assessed as‘endangered’ due to its restricted range (extent of occurrence less than 5,000 km2), continuing decline in habitat quality and the fact that the species is considered to be found in less than five locations.
This species is found only in the mid to upper reaches of the Mahaweli Ganga basin. L. fisheri may already be extinct, as a result of habitat loss following the Mahaweli Ganga development project.”
Two environmental scientists had also pointed out the plight of the gadeya long before this. Back in 1980, Dr. Ranil Senanayake had predicted that the Polgolla and Victoria projects would destroy the gadeya’s habitat while in 1990, Dr. Eric Wikramanayake had said that this fish may already be extinct, environmentalists said.
Meanwhile, it was Prof. Deepthi Yakandawala of the Department of Botany, Peradeniya Faculty of Science, who identified two important aquatic plant groups, some species of which are endangered, which were being destroyed by the dynamiting.
The two groups are flowering plants including members of the family Podostemaceae and the aquarium plants the ‘water trumpet’ (Cryptocoryne, commonly known as Athi-udayan).
The IUCN Red List on the Fauna and Flora of Sri Lanka (2007) categorizes Cryptocoryne alba; C. bogneri, C. parva, C. undulata, C. walkeri and C. x willisii as critically endangered, with C. beckettii, C. nevillii, C. thwaitesii being endangered and C. wendtii being vulnerable.