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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A closer look at the coastline

Online edition of Sunday Observer - Features: "03/04/05
by Prof. Hemanthi Ranasinghe (Professor of Forestry and Environmental Science, University of Sri Jayawardenapura)

Three months into the December 26 tsunami that devastated two thirds of the coast, and another earthquake sending fears of another tsunami, it is time to look back at the coastline, understand where we have gone wrong and rectify our mistakes before taking a forward step, as it is almost always never too late to say sorry and rectify.

In order to do this first we should understand the importance of the coastline, the issues and challenges it is confronted with.

Sri Lanka has a coastline of 1,585 km. The coastal region covers 74 DS Divisions, comprising 23 per cent of the country's land area twentyfive per cent of the population live on the coast.

It is responsible for about 89 per cent of the fish production in the country, houses about 70 per cent of tourist hotels and 62 per cent of industrial units. Sri Lanka's coasts and beaches are among the most scenic in the world and are an aesthetic resource. Coasts provide important minerals including sand and ilmenite, the coastal region functions as an important sink to most waste generated in the country.

Issues and challenges

Despite existing coast conservation regulations the coast constantly suffers from human induced actions. Some of the most important problems in the coastal zone are coastal erosion, coastal pollution, haphazard construction of dwellings, unsustainable fishery and destruction of mangroves. Coastal erosion is both natural and human induced.

The prominent cause of this problem is identified as the continuing high level of river sand mining and mining of beach sand and sea coral. Sri Lanka is said to be loosing 300,000 to 500,000 square meters of land per year along the Western and South Western coastal region, and it is estimated that 55 per cent of the coast has already been eroded. Mangroves covering about 16,000 ha have been used as timber and fuelwood over the years and also converted to aquaculture sites and human settlements. (Coastal Zone Management Plan. 2003).

With regard to the fishery resource, the use of adverse capture techniques in fishery, such as the adoption of blast fishing, bottom-set nets and nylon drift gill nets have had adverse effects on the reef fish, coral reefs, turtles and small marine mammals. As a result, many nearshore waters are now over exploited and threatened with destruction.

The lobster resource in the Southern coast has been depleted due to indiscriminate harvesting of gravid females and juveniles. The export trade in ornamental fish which ranks next to that of prawns in terms of value, and the levels of exploitation of such fish are widely considered to be unsustainable. This trade exports between 200-300 marine species and invertebrates but is not adequately monitored or managed. In addition, the use of moxy-nets for collection of reef fish for the aquarium trade, has seriously damaged the coral reefs.

The coastal biodiversity as well as the naturally occurring prawn and fish resources in the lagoons of the North West coast are depleted due to siltation and pollution caused by unregulated discharge of sewage and untreated waste water from industries.

All in all, it is clear that despite the regulations, man has taken the lead in his pursuit for short termed economic development, in destructing his own natural ecosystems which provide stability to his very being.

Way forward

There is a famous saying that there is a silver line in every grey cloud. Likewise, we can make use of this horrible, unprecedented and extremely sad event to give hope not only to humans but also to nature, so that together, we can move towards a more sustainable future. It is imperative to plan the reconstruction to benefit both man and nature. There is a resurgence of effort for greater collaboration and co-ordination, not only among the institutions which are mandated but also with interested others.

This is apparent from the one page notices placed on newspapers, asking for ideas, constructive criticisms etc. from the general public. Therefore, this is a good opportunity to get together not only to repair what was there before the tsunami, but to get together to achieve long term sustainability to the nation and its people. For that it is imperative to bring to the notice of the people the existing regulatory system, the set backs, issues and challenges and how we can all get together to mitigate them and effectively move forward.

The need for integrated management to conserve, develop and sustainable use the coastal resources had long been identified and accordingly a comprehensive Coastal Zone Management Plan had been prepared by the Coast Conservation Department (CCD) in 1990 which has been revised many times ie 1993, 2003 etc. This line of action is made urgent and more pronounced by the aftermath of tsunami.

The Ministry of Urban Development and Water Supplies has taken the leadership in the reconstruction and rehabilitation effort with the close collaboration of other agencies both government and non government, the private sector and interested personnel. This gets recorded as one of the few occasions where citizens of Sri Lanka have rallied together towards one goal.

We also have to put our heads together to think out the best way to move forward for our land and its people. We have to be guided by the principle of sustainability as it is the best safeguard we have to face any calamities let it be natural or manmade.

Land zoning

UDA has embarked on a plan of reconstruction and rehabilitation in the tsunami affected areas. Having the safety of the resident of the affected areas uppermost in their minds, they have zoned the coastal zone into many parts; 100m to 300m from high water line.

In the initial 100m which is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters such as cyclones, no new construction will be allowed. In the 100-200m zone and also 200-300m zone, construction will be permitted on a resisted level. In the Eastern Coast where susceptibility to cyclones is higher, the no construction zone will be increased to 200-250m depending on the locality and the state of vulnerability. Further, they are also guided by the contours where no construction will be allowed less than 300m from mean sea level.

Planting the 100m zone

Another important step is to plant up the 100m stretch from the mean high water line all around the country. The Central Environmental Authority and the Forest Department are taking the leadership in this venture with the assistance of other related agencies. This will provide an effective barrier against cyclones and other natural disasters giving much needed protection to the coastal communities and property.

However, there is a greater challenge because of the urgency of the operation. Proper selection of plants, especially those which grow well in saline situations, ensuring growth and maintenance, ensuring aesthetic quality of the shoreline, ensuring public participation as well as public access and use of these beach parks is vital for the success of this venture. The existing littoral vegetation should be strengthened while planting other species.

Those which are most suitable to grow in saline environments are Casuarina, Mudilla, Kohomba, Acacia auriculiformis, Kottamba, and Coconut. However, planting according to aesthetic and ecological requirements is imperative as these can be eventually used as beach parks by the general public. Not only those who plant trees but many others i.e., architects, planners, designers, private and public nurseries, personnel and organisations entrusted with the maintenance are needed in this venture. Further, proper coordination and also an integrated effort is needed to make this dream a reality.

Other factors

The agencies entrusted with the coastal zone should enforce the regulations more stringently or the efforts to achieve a sustainability in the reconstruction and rehabilitation effort will be extremely short lived. The factors which contributes to the degradation of the coastal zone should be reversed. Sea coral mining and destruction of mangroves should be completely halted with more effective enforcement of regulations.

Hotels and other dwellings which send solid and liquid waste should be forced to treat their waste prior to discharge, failing which they should be adequately punished so that they will refrain from doing so in the future. The Special Area Management Planning Process where all the stakeholders to the coastal zone participate actively in the management of the coastal zone should be extended to all the coastal areas.

Coastal communities and others in general should be adequately made aware to be more prepared for any natural disasters that may befall them. Disaster management should be taught right from the primary school.

Although it may not be possible to build cyclone/tsunami free housing, it is imperative that areas be designated and built to provide shelters to people in the event of a natural disaster and several demonstrations are done at a regular basis."


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