by Risidra Mendis
The destruction of large areas of mangroves to make way for prawn farms and salt pans has come under severe criticism by environmentalists who say speedy measures need to be taken to protect the remaining mangroves.
It is learnt that vast areas are being cleared in many parts of the country destroying mangroves to make room for development activities.
Given the importance of mangroves to the environment the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC) has taken the initiative to protect a few mangrove areas within national parks and nature reserves. However, only 40% of the mangrove areas are protected in Sri Lanka.
The Forest Department, it is learnt, can also give permission for unprotected areas to be cleared of mangroves, depending on the request made by the relevant party.
Meanwhile, speaking to Ceylon Today, DirectorEnvironment Conservation Trust, Director Sajeewa Chamikara, saidaround 80% of mangrove cover had been destroyed due to prawn farms and development activities.
“In 1994, there was around 11500 hectares of mangroves. However in recent times’ this number has dropped to alarming levels. The areas consisting of mangroves have today dropped to around 6000 to 7000 hectares,” Chamikara said.
He went on to say construction of hotels, salt production, shrimp farms and expanding human settlement, have all destroyed the mangroves are destroyed in many parts of the country.
To erect prawn farms
Initially mangroves were destroyed to erect prawn farms in the Negombo area. However, when a sudden disease hit the prawn industry, prawn farmers abandoned their business and started converting their farms into salt pans.
“In Sri Lanka there are 22 varieties of true mangroves, which are situated in the wet, dry and intermediate zones of the coastal areas. Mangroves can also be found close to lagoons and outfalls (an outfall is the discharge point of a waste stream into a body of water; alternatively, it may be the outlet of a river, drain or a sewer where it discharges into the sea or a lake). Out of the listed true mangroves in the world, 37% of them can be found in Sri Lanka,” Chamikara said.
He added that in the Puttalam lagoon on the south east border, around 250 acres of mangroves and salt marshes had been removed by Deputy Minister External Affairs, Neomal Perera to start a salt pan while in the Kalpitiya area a large extent of mangroves had been destroyed to make room for development activities for the tourism industry.
When Ceylon Today contacted Neomal Perera with regard to the latest developments on this issue, he said he has not destroyed the mangroves around the saltern and has also not acquired any lands illegally for this purpose.
“However Chamikara said that they have learnt that another large extent of land, consisting of mangroves, is to be destroyed. Even areas protected under the Forest Ordinance and termed as Protected Mangrove Forests are being destroyed to make room to develop the tourist industry,” Chamikara explained.
He charged, that around 1805 acres of land was destroyed by a well known company, in the Salapearu lagoon in the Kuchchaveli area in Trincomalee to build the saltern, and added that even fishermen have been prohibited from entering this area to fish, as a result of the project.
In Batticaloa, Vakarai area, around 170 acres of land was destroyed to erect prawn farms, while in the Pasikuda area in Batticoloa and Nilaweli area in Trincomalee, mangroves were cleared to develop the tourism industry.
“In the Arachchikattuwa- Karukupane area, around five acres of land consisting of mangroves was cleared by another well known company to build a hotel. In the Puttalam lagoon eight acres of mangroves were destroyed to make room for a housing scheme on the instructions of a Deputy Minister,” Chamikara said.
Mangroves in the Puttalam Lagoon, Koggala Lagoon, Maduganga and Panama Lagoon are being presently cleared to build hotels.
“The clearing of mangroves has, mainly, affected fishermen in the area and is posing a threat to the habitats of fish, prawns, and crabs. If the breeding of fish prawns and crabs comes to a standstill, this would in turn affect the fishermen’s livelihood,” Chamikara explained.
A small extent of mangroves in close proximity to the Puttalam Lagoon, Chilaw Lagoon, Negombo Lagoon and in the Galle District, have been declared as protected forest areas by the Forest Department.
Last remaining patch
The last remaining patch of mangroves in the Puttalam Lagoon, which is very unique, may also be destroyed due to the increase of saltpans. “A unique species of mangrove known as Avicennia is found in the Puttalam Lagoon, and needs to be protected,”said Senior Lecturer of the Wayamba University, Department of Aquatic Resources and Fisheries, Dr. S. Jayakody.
Rhizophore mucronata, Avicennia marina and Lumnitzera racemosa were the most dominant species found during a study, conducted on the mangroves in the Puttalam Lagoon the lagoon is the richest, when it comes to mangrove diversity, Jayakody explained.
Avicennia marina was found to be the dominant species in the Puttalam Lagoon and Dutch Bay mangroves. A total of 14 true mangrove plant species and 29 species of mangrove-associated species have been reported from the Puttalam Lagoon and the Dutch Bay, such as Scyphiphora hydrophyllaceae, a very rare species and Sianometra iripa, which are critically endangered.
Avicennia marina, commonly known as grey mangrove or white mangrove, is a species of mangrove tree classified in the plant family Acanthaceae.
Mangrove forests are unique habitats, adapted to the living conditions of brackish estuaries and coastal areas. All mangrove species have extensive root systems that serve as a barrier against tidal waves and can help in controlling the effects of a tsunami.
Mangroves are unique habitats as they provide for a large number of different creatures, salt and freshwater species as well as marine and terrestrial organisms. Their dense root systems provide not only a barrier against flood waves but can retain sludge and sediments.
Many fish species use these areas as spawning grounds. It is estimated that 50% of the world’s mangrove forests have been destroyed irrecoverably in the past 10 years through deforestation, abuse and exploitation, with negative impacts on fishery and the protection against catastrophic flooding events.
Mangrove swamps are known to protect coastal areas from erosion, storms surge (especially during hurricanes), and tsunamis. The mangroves’ massive root systems are efficient in dissipating wave energy.
Due to the uniqueness of mangrove ecosystems and the protection they provide against erosion, they are often the object of conservation programmes, including national biodiversity action plans.
The unique ecosystem found in the intricate mesh of mangrove roots offers a quiet marine region for young organisms. In areas where roots are permanently submerged, the organisms they host include algae, barnacles, oysters, sponges, and bryozoans, which all require a hard surface for anchoring while they filter feed. Shrimps and mud lobsters use the muddy bottoms of the mangroves as their home. courtesy: Ceylon Today