By Divya Thotawatte
The Akurala Wetland, which is a wildlife conservation area, is under threat from a project which is underway to destroy the lives of the wild animals and villagers living around the wetland, several environmental NGOs claim.
“A project to develop the wetland as a tourist zone is being implemented by the Ministry of Project Management and Southern Development which would destroy the wildlife habitats, homes of villagers and monasteries of the priests engaged in meditation in the area,” stated Heritage of Wetlands Secretary KalumThushara.
“The gazette on reserving the wetland is being delayed by the Ministry of Wildlife Resources Conservation due to the support given to this project,” he added.“It is clear that various parties use this for their own benefit.”
Akurala Wetland, which runs over 200 hectares, was first recognisedin 2009 by the Central Environmental Authority and afterwardscomprehensive research was handed over to the Department of Wildlife Conservation.
There are 130 types of plants identified in the wetland with four of them being endemic to the country. Seventy-four species of birds, with four of them endemic, are also identified while endangered species like mouse deer, pangolins and barking deer are often spotted in this area.
“It is amazing how a land of 200 hectares can have so much biodiversity,” said Thushara.
Environment Attorney at Law Jagath Gunawardhane stated that the area around GingOya in the Puttalam District in which the mangrove palm ‘Ging Pol’ is found should also be namedconservation land.Although it was approved by the Cabinet, when the gazette was presented the secretary of the provincial council said that this area is situated in the Wayamba Province and that the Minister of Environment has no right to reserve the land, Gunawardhane stated. He asserted that this statement was unfitting because the current Minister of Environment was the President of Sri Lanka. If the President was unable to declare that an area should be conserved, I think we’re treading on dangerous ground.
Young Zoologists Association Flora Instructor Dilup Chandranimal stated: “Only 0.01% of the total land of Sri Lanka consists of mangroves. Most of these mangroves are endangered, especially NypaFruticans which was red-listed in 2012 and it is our duty to protect them.” “Mangroves are one important ecosystem present between the land and the sea or in the area between rivers which helps us stay protected from floods, hurricanes and tsunamis. And when it comes to productivity this ecosystem is very high in fish, prawns and crab. The wetland area is connected to the fish industry, especially the leaf of the NypaFrutican palm which is used to colour fishing nets and even to build roofs. Thus the mangroves are endangered and the smaller the area of the wetlands gets the more it affects the ecosystem and the wildlifehabitats,” he added.
Pix by Lasantha Kumara