4th June 2000
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Madu Ganga islets as mangrove nurseries

Cruising down Madu Ganga

By Gamini Punchihewa
In earlier years Madu Ganga and its islets were known for their mangroves, but these are now increasingly under threat.

The exploitation of the Kadola Groves (Rhizophora apiculata) is one of the reasons for this decline. The bark is removed to obtain a dye and then the tree withers away. The dead trees are collected by villagers for use as fuelwood, charcoal and even fodder.

In view of the alarming decline in mangrove habitats, the Central Environmental Authority (CEA), the Department of Forests, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Government of Netherlands have been taking steps to conserve not only the threatened areas of the Madu Ganga but also those in Kalutara, Galle, Gampaha and Puttalam.

Kirala trees (Sonneratia caseolaris), also abound in the mangrove habitats. Their juicy fruit can be eaten raw or made into a delicious, nutritious beverage. The other mangrove species thriving there are the Karan Koku - (Acrostichum aureum) which can be cooked as a curry or mallun.

At Digaduwa (Long Island), we were able to identify several herbal plants. Our guide Mr. Gunadasa de Silva showed us Agamul Nethiwel (Custuda) which he said is used in native medicine for the treatment of arthritis.

We came across another valuable herbal plant Kothala Hibatuvel (Salcia reticulata), the roots of which are used in ayurvedic medicine as a cure for diabetes.

Another common plant that thrives along the fringes of the Madu Ganga and its islets is Wal Beli. Its flowers are yellow and bear tiny fruits, which however, are not edible.

Still another rare tree we were shown was called Rath Milla which bears tiny but alluring red flowers. Its botanical name is 'Lumnitzera Litterea'.

Also on the banks of the Madu Ganga and its islets are a few groves of Gin Pol (Nypa fruiticans) which is a mangrove species, with leaves in the shape of the coconut palm. Its fronds are used for thatching roofs. In the days of yore, the banks of the Gin Ganga were filled with groves of Gin Pol. The name 'Gintota' was apparently derived from these Gin Pol trees that lined the river bank.

Rehabilitation project

The Saviya Development Foundation of Balapitiya, Galle under its mangrove rehabilitation project launched last year seeks to establish mangrove nurseries, re-plant the decaying Kadol trees and ensure their growth.

Re-planting has since been completed at nine sites along the Madu Ganga and its islets covering a 25-km strip on both river banks. One can only hope the project is successful in conserving the mangroves that are so much a part of the Madu Ganga.

Mangroves apart, the most alluring aquatic plants that greeted us on our river journey were the beautiful manel and olu - of varied hues. The rathu manel, nil manel and sudu olu were in full bloom and carpets of these flowers created an aura of a fairyland as the river wound its way through the mangroves.

The nil manel is our national flower. The nelum, olu and manel belong to the species of Nelumbium speciosum, Nymphae Lotus, and Nymphae stellat a respectively.

All these species are used in ayurvedic medicine for ailments like gonorrhoea and for bowel haemorrhage. The leaves, flowers and yams are all used.
Final part: Plight of prawn fishermen


In the column on May 21, we have inadvertently stated, "....Neela Maha Yodaya to bring back 12 Sinhalese prisoners..." instead of 12,000 Sinhalese prisoners and "... This shrine was later built by Gunadasa de Silva of Maduwa..." instead of the late Simon de Silva". We regret the errors.
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