Thursday, June 13, 2024

Massive transformation mooted for Mirissa

Blue Flag Beach and Marine Conservation Sanctuary proposed:

by malinga
May 5, 2024 1:17 am 0 comment 2.2K views

By Subashini Jayaratne

Sri Lanka’s beaches are now on the way to obtain the prestigious ‘Blue Flag Beach’ certification. Mirissa has gained renown among both local and international tourists for its proximity to blue whales living along the Sri Lankan coastline. Its popularity is attributed to the picturesque shores and the well-established infrastructure for whale watching activities. Environmentalists affirm that the chances of encountering blue whales off the coast of Mirissa exceed ninety percent.

The tourism sector is burgeoning along the shores of Mirissa, and the Cabinet Sub-Committee’s report on designating Mirissa as a high-value sanctuary in Sri Lanka has been well received. With Mirissa already renowned as a haven for blue whales, it is envisioned that the coastline will not only remain a kingdom for these majestic creatures but also become a sanctuary for various other marine mammals in the near future.

Mirissa has earned a reputation as a prime destination for whale enthusiasts, with environmentalists confirming the presence of eight whale species along its coast. Mirissa boasts sightings of the world’s eight most renowned whale species, including Blue Whales, Killer Whales, Sperm Whales, Omura’s Whales, False Killer Whales, Bryde’s Whales, Cuvier Beaked Whales, and extremely rare Deraniyagala’s Beaked Whales, although the origin of the last name is somewhat of a mystery.

The project aims to achieve additional milestones, including the designation of Mirissa as a sanctuary and the establishment of Blue Flag-certified beaches. Under the Wildlife and Flora Ordinance, as of December 20, 2020 around 29 Marine Protected Areas have been declared. Plans are underway to designate Mirissa as a special sea zone in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), where enthusiasts can witness eight whale species and seven dolphin species within a single area.

The Government aims to attain these objectives without adversely impacting the traditional fishing industry. By doing so, a substantial portion of the country’s annual foreign exchange earnings from the tourism sector will be generated through the development of the Mirissa Tourist Beach Zone in the Southern region. Consequently, the future Mirissa Coastal Tourist Zone is envisioned to be meticulously designed in accordance with a comprehensive plan, establishing it as one of the world’s premier tourist destinations.

Foreign exchange

The potential to generate substantial foreign exchange annually through the establishment of Blue Flag Beach zones in the country has also been recognised by the authorities. This initiative is being spearheaded not only by the Marine Environment Protection Authority but also by the Ministry of Tourism and the Department of Wildlife Conservation. This is especially significant since Sri Lanka has an ocean area that is 23 times bigger than its land area of 65,610 Sq.Km.

The National Organiser of the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) Sandun Wickremesinghe said the Blue Flag Beach certification is granted when a country fulfils the requisite conditions.

“Blue Flag Beaches are not yet present in Sri Lanka, but plans are underway to establish them in the future. Currently, our neighbouring country, India, boasts 10 such beaches. The criteria for developing Blue Flag Beaches consist of 33 requirements across four main categories: environmental education, water quality testing, environmental management, and safety and services. Pasikudah and Arugambay are currently undergoing development to achieve Blue Flag status under the Ministry of Tourism and the MEPA,” he said.

“In addition, the authority has designated Bentara and Unawatuna as special beach zones and is actively working, with the support of the private sector, to fulfill the necessary criteria. Progress has been made in meeting some of these criteria,” he said.

A standard beach differs significantly from a Blue Flag beach in terms of criteria. By meeting 33 specific criteria across four sectors—safety and service, environmental education, water quality testing, and environmental management—this beach undergoes a transformation, offering a distinct experience. This beach stands out from others as long as it ensures good water quality for bathing, sanitation facilities, ample parking, water quality monitoring, trained lifeguard teams, a clean beach environment, accessibility for people with disabilities, and an information centre.

Surrounding seawaters

Under the Blue Flag Beach designation, the area encompasses not only the beach itself but also the surrounding seawaters. Therefore, these beaches actively manage underwater biodiversity, facilitating activities such as diving and providing tourists with the opportunity to explore and enjoy these experiences along the Blue Flag beaches.

The Chairman of the Maritime Safety Authority, lawyer Asela B. Rekawa, along with its General Manager Jagath Gunasekara and other officials, are actively involved in obtaining certification for the establishment of these Blue Flag beaches. Two representatives from the international organisation FEE (The Foundation for Environmental Education) visited Sri Lanka last year, participating in various field trips and awareness programs related to this initiative.

By the year’s end, Sri Lanka will boast four internationally accredited beach bathing piers or Blue Flag beaches for the first time. This marks a pivotal moment for Sri Lanka’s global tourism industry, ensuring that both international and domestic tourists can enjoy our natural beaches with top-tier safety standards and amenities.

The iconic Blue Flag is one of the world’s most recognised voluntary awards for beaches, marinas, and sustainable tourism boats. In order to qualify for the Blue Flag, a series of stringent environmental, educational, safety, and accessibility criteria must be met and maintained. The Blue Flag is a certification by the Foundation for Environmental Education that a beach, marina, or sustainable boating tourism operator meets its standards. The Blue Flag is a trademark owned by FEE, which is a not-for-profit non-governmental organisation consisting of 65 organisations in 77 member countries.

Central to the ideals of the Blue Flag program is the aim of connecting the public with their surroundings and encouraging them to learn more about their environment. As such, environmental education activities must be offered and promoted in addition to a permanent display of information relevant to the site in terms of biodiversity, ecosystems and environmental phenomena.

Spain has had more blue flag beaches than any other country every year since the awards were introduced in 1987. The awards are announced yearly on June 5, for Europe, Canada, Morocco, Tunisia, and other countries in a similar geographic location, and on November 1, for the Caribbean, New Zealand, South Africa, and other countries in the southern hemisphere.

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