|Sunday, 6 February 2005|
Sorry plight of the coastal eco-system
Swamped by the tsunami
by Shanika Sriyananda
The stretch of beach front along the Galle Road in Moratuwa, appears refreshingly green and refreshingly intact. The buildings stand tall, the trees lush and green but beyond the fishing village of Koralawella, the impact of the tsunami devastation on the environment hits one with the force of a sledge hammer.
Nothing has been spared from tiny blades of grass to tall mango trees, from potable water wells to fertile soil, the whole eco-system in the coastal belt has fallen prey to the tsunami.
The killer waves have also taken most of the illegal encroachments back to the sea, teaching man the importance of keeping a natural barrier along the beach. This has alarmed the responsible authorities to impose strict regulations and maintain the 100 meter buffer zone in the coastal belt.
The coastal ecosystem - coral reef, mangroves, seagrass beds, coastal dunes, mudflats, salt marshes and lagoons - have all been severely damaged, especially the coral reefs, many of which have lost their structure and biota.
The force of the tsunami waves moved large amounts of boulders and sections of the reef and also thousands of tons of smaller fragments along with sand and silt.
A team of researchers of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) who did a rapid post-tsunami assessment of a 30 kilometre coastal stretch extending from Medilla to Godawaya in the Hambanthota District have found that four major bays have been severely damaged.
The narrowing and lowering of the beach in these areas (the team discovered) had also greatly affected the ecological balance.
According to its findings, the natural and man-made canals and lagoons opening to the sea have transferred the impact towards more inland areas (funnelling the waves inland) resulting in damage to life, ecosystem and property in the Kapuhenwala, Walawe estuary. The IUCN assessment found that the currents that entered inland with higher force in narrow bay areas, will possibly result in trenches in the sea bottom topography in areas like Oruwella.
Dr. Channa Bambaradeniya, Program Coordinator, IUCN told the Sunday Observer that a severe impact was observed at the western flanks in each bay and the broad bay areas from Medilla to Tangalle, Oruwella fishery harbour area, Kalametiya outlet and fishery harbour area and Usangoda and Welipatanwila area. "We found the tsunami waves to have entered inland with a greater force in the areas where the sand-dunes were flattened to grow coconut or were converted into home gardens.
Most of the buildings like hotels and restaurants constructed by cutting mangroves, which are the beach front lines, are severely damaged", he added.
He said, that human settlements and constructions found in the immediate beach front were damaged and the tsunami waves had been strong in the areas where coral reefs were damaged severely by mining and bottom set netting.
The IUCN research into the impact on coastal ecosystems and vegetation had found that the ecology of salt marshes and mangrove eco systems had been affected due to the large volumes of transported sand deposited on them, and mangrove propagules washed off in many areas. "Terrestrial plants, especially paddy, home gardens and grasslands, that failed to adapt to saline conditions have been adversely affected.
This has resulted in a significant impact on livelihoods such as livestock grazing, food crops, fire wood and local medicine. Low lying paddy fields are also affected by mud deposition and the salinity of water", Dr. Bambaradeniya pointed out.
He also warned of the dangers of invasive species like Propagules of the Prickly-pear cactus (Opuntia), which were in the beach front spreading into distant inland areas. "These species have now started growing in new locations.
Typha - an invasive reed and Water Hyacinth (Eicchornia crassipes) - an invasive floating plant, have been eliminated considerably due to increased salinity", he added. The coastal fauna have been damaged greatly by the tsunami, and many species of near-shore marine fish were found dead in inland areas.
The IUCN research has found that the estuarine fish population have also been affected by the tsunami and many freshwater fish species have died in the estuarine systems.
According to IUCN researchers, several new marine fish species, have appeared in the lagoons. These were not found in lagoons in the coastal belt before the tsunami.
The turtle nesting sites and nests in the coastal areas have also been destroyed, but Green turtles and Olive Ridley turtles are now seen coming to the beach for nesting.
However, the IUCN researchers had observed a few specimens of Mouse Deer in Kapuhenwala, single specimen of Land monitor in Medilla and single specimen of Soft shelled Terrapin in Kalametiya during their visit.
According to Dr. Bambaradeniya, the defensive role of natural systems have protected some eco-systems in some of these areas, especially the Pandanus stands in beach fronts, which have helped to slow down the strength of the monstrous waves.
"The tsunami waves have entered inland easily at places where there was no Pandanus fence. Sand dunes have also functioned as an important protective barrier against the waves".
"The defensive role varies from site to site, depending on the height, width and stabilisation by vegetative cover", he said.
Dr. Bambaradeniya said that the Kalametiya lagoon was silted and invaded by Typha and Eichornia and most of the invasive plants were washed away or dead. "We observed that most of the habitats have also been destroyed in this lagoon where the salinity is high.
Birds, which were displaced have lost their habitats and most of the freshwater fish are dead or have disappeared", he added.
However, the tsunami destruction has prompted the authorities to build natural defensive barriers - mangroves, sand dunes and buffer zones - to prevent a similar calamity in the future, while taking action to recover natural environments in the tsunami hit areas.
Dealing with strays - humanely
by Vimukthi Fernando
A one day animal welfare clinic at the Moratuwa Stadium premises, may be of little importance in comparison to the magnitude of events that took place in Sri Lanka in the past few weeks - the tsunami that stole the lives of over 31,000 and displaced hundreds of thousands and played havoc in the coastal belt.
Nevertheless, the importance of this particular event is augmented by the same reason. For as thousands of humans were displaced, so were the canines, felines and other pet animals. Many animals were seen roaming the highways and byways of the towns affected by the tsunami.
They may have been the most trusted and loved of their owners. Some may have helped save lives and others retrieve bodies from their watery graves. But, all in all, they were the most neglected of the lot, for, alleviating the human suffering took the forefront of the relief measures. With an estimated 100,000 animals joining the rank of 'strays' after the catastrophe, the potential threat of disease mainly rabies was high. In certain areas such as Arugambay 'strays' were ordered to be put to sleep.
That was when the Tsunami People Animal Relief Coalition (TPARC) intervened. Invited by two animal welfare volunteers, Robert Blumberg and Anusha David, the Humane Society Internationale (HSI), American Humane Association (AHA), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Noah's Wish-USA joined hands with the Veterinary faculties of Sri Lankan universities, Pets V Care Sri Lanka, Pet Vet Clinic and many other corporations, organisations and individuals to control and stabilise the stray animal population of Sri Lanka, specially in the tsunami affected areas.
The plan is to complement the government's rebuilding and re-structuring efforts, with a helping hand in animal welfare, an area usually overlooked due to other pressures, says Sherry Grant, Area Director for HSI team leader for one such group carrying out their operations in Moratuwa and Kalutara recently.
Their method - providing animal welfare through islandwide mobile clinics. Rabies inoculation, general immunisation, mange care, spaying and neutering are offered free of charge to the community through these clinics.
The best control method for stray animal population is through sterilisation, thereby stabilising the numbers using the resources of an area, says Grant. Otherwise, even if all the animals in an area are killed in another six months it will be populated again with animals from neighbourhood populations filling in the vacuum.
The solution, she says is the stabilisation through controlling the population by spaying and neutering, a method tried successfully in other countries such as Bali, Guatemala and the USA where they had controlled the community animal problem. "You see, we don't even call them stray animals. We call them community animals because they are accepted by the community and the community takes care of them. This kind of programme is one way of taking responsibility towards animals," she says.
This theory seems to be true, at least in one township where they were carrying out sterilisation clinics. The Moratuwa Municipal Council's Veterinary Department carries out frequent programmes to destroy stay dogs, says the Municipal Veterinary Surgeon, Dr. Panchalie Rajapakse.
About 300 animals are destroyed at one such programme. However, the stray animal population remains a perpetual problem for the Municipality. As a measure of control, the Veterinary section has introduced contraception for female animals through Dipoprovira hormone inoculation, which costs about Rs.80 per animal per year. This method is considered due to financial constrains, says Dr. Rajapakse, for sterilisation, though it is a permanent measure, costs over Rs.400 per animal. There are other constraints as well.
They lack trained hands to catch the animals and two more veterinary doctors would help them carry out a perfect job, she adds. The Veterinary Department offers rabies, sterilisation, mange care as well as other disease control inoculations, but at a cost. The owners have to pay the cost of medicine, says Dr. Rajapakse. However, once a year mobile animal welfare clinics are held in different areas of the Municipality free of charge.
Another facility available for animal owners is the Animal Husbandry Department centres of the Western Province, which offers spaying and neutering at Rs. 600, rabies inoculation at Rs. 220 and Pavo inoculation at Rs. 280.
The mobile clinic by HSI helped them much in alleviating the stray animal problem, says Dr. Rajapakse who volunteered her services for the mobile clinic. Consisting of three veterinary surgeons, Komang Sudiati and Rai Ariasani from the Street Dog Foundation in Bali and Eric Davis from the Rural Area Veterinary Services in USA and two dog catchers Nana Parayoga and Ketur Arta from Bali, the HSI team was supported by seven volunteers comprising veterinary doctors and veterinary students from universities and the Municipality.
Sherry Grant is surprised by the community response to the clinics. Before coming to Sri Lanka and conducting veterinary clinics what we have heard of is that the general public would not like to castrate their pets. But, the ground situation is quite contrary, says Grant.
During their one day clinics in Kalutara and Moratuwa they had sprayed and neutered about 100 animals. Surgery was performed on 48 dogs and cats at Kalutara and about 50 in Moratuwa.
The team plans to establish their base in Arugam Bay. We are ready to stay here long-term, as long as it takes to control the problem, says Grant and invites local veterinary doctors and students to volunteer with them.
by Shanika Sriyananda
The Ministerial Committee members are surprised to learn that Cabinet approval has been granted for a new water policy formulated by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) while they are still finalising the water policy initiated under the recommendations of the Irrigation Minister.
A Consultant to the Ministry and also a ministerial committee member Piyal Parakrama told the Sunday Observer that the water policy prepared by a team of local experts based on pledges of the UPFA's Rata Perata manifesto had already been completed and would be submitted to Minister Anura Kumara Dissanayake, before the end of this month.
He said, Minister Dissanayake had not officially informed them about the Cabinet approval to the PTF's Water Policy given at the meeting held on December 21. "The Cabinet approved water policy document was not open for public comment because it is a hidden agenda", he alleged.
Meanwhile, Secretary, Ministry of Mahaweli and River Basin Development T. M. Abeywickrama, refuting the allegation said that there were no hidden agendas but claimed the sole aim of the policy was to manage and conserve water resources in the country.
According to Abeywickrama, the PTF had studied previous local water policies and water policies of 10 other countries in formulating the new policy.
He said that the policy was submitted to the Cabinet on December 14 and approved at a Cabinet meeting held on December 21 in the presence of the JVP Cabinet Ministers.
"There were no objections from them", Abeywickrama said.
Produced by Lake House