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Waste and garbage a threat to the Negombo lagoon
By Tania Fernando and Chandani Kirinde
The dumping of garbage, waste from factories and prawn hatcheries is causing a serious threat to the aquatic life of the Negombo lagoon and in turn the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen. Although several environmental groups have raised concerns over the issue, little action has been taken to stop the worsening conditions there.

The stench emanating from the lagoon has also become a health hazard to over 12,000 people who reside on the banks, which cover an area of about 3,600 hectares of land. In most instances, it is these same persons who are guilty of disposing their waste into the lagoon causing it to become polluted.

K. Sebestian Fernando, Treasurer of the Negombo Lagoon Management Authority, accused the Negombo Municipal Council too of adding to the problem by diverting waste from the drains in the city to the lagoon. "Garbage collection is at a minimal level and not even done once a week. A lot of the garbage including polythene and plastics are thrown into drains and with the monsoon it ends up in the lagoon," he said.

Although several methods to prevent this, by using a filtering system, whereby the garbage is filtered before reaching the lagoon, was discussed it is yet to be implemented. "The prawns and fish are fewer in the lagoon now. Those of us who make a living by fishing here face an uphill task," said Upul Shantha, a lagoon fisherman, adding that it was not possible to even get into the lagoon as often they cut their feet on broken bottles and fishing hooks get entangled with polythene bags etc.

The sewage from the Negombo prison, which houses more than 2,000 persons at any given time, also ends up in the lagoon along with waste from several prawn hatcheries in the area and factories in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone. The lagoon water is polluted by oil emptied into the lagoon, by the large number of boats using the area for anchoring

A proposal had been submitted to the Central Environment Authority (CEA) to close down the prawn hatcheries in the area but no action has been taken in this regard. "All parties including the public, the environmental, Coast Conservation and Municipal Authorities should together help to safeguard the lagoon. There is yet time to save this wetland area before it is permanently destroyed," Mr. Fernando said.

Meanwhile, Dr. R A D B Samaranayake, Director of Coast Conservation said that it was people of the area who dump garbage. "The lagoon banks do not come within our purview, but we are trying to amend the act to include it as well", Dr. Samaranayake said, adding that they are able to take action only if garbage is dumped into the water, as their writ extends inwards upto 2 km's from the mouth of the lagoon .

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