Sri Lanka is rich in biodiversity and the Negombo lagoon is representative of this rich biological heritage. But this natural asset is facing gradual degradation.
The Negombo lagoon belongs to the Muthurajawela Wetland. This unique ecosystem extends 35.48 sq km, bordered on the west by the coast and by Colombo-Negombo highway on the east.
The area around the Negombo lagoon is significant for the vast biodiversity it supports. It is diverse in ecology too. Mangroves, wetlands, fresh water streams, abandoned paddy fields, shrub and ocean are diverse ecosystems associated with the Muthurajawela wetland and it is home to numerous fauna and flora.
Many rare endemic plants, animals and birds are denizens of this ecosystem. In this exotic environment, one can find a vast number of reptile and frog species. Many endemic water monitor species too live in this wetland.
Mutharajawela is a paradise for bird watchers. Many migratory as well as endemic birds are observed by the thousands in this wetland. During the migratory season various exotic birds flock to the wetland in the early mornings and evenings. The black hooded kingfisher can also be seen here in the migratory season.
The Negombo lagoon is specifically important for the mangrove ecosystem it supports. The total area of mangroves in the country is 0.5 percent and out of that a considerable area belongs to the Negombo lagoon. It boasts of 66 classes and 194 species of mangrove plants.
A research conducted by the Muthurajawela and Negombo Lagoon Development Foundation has found that out of the 22 species of mangroves found in Sri Lanka, 18 species are found in Muthurajawela.
Though it is a vital environmental asset, now it is in peril. Many opine that the development process in the surrounding area is the main cause to this crisis. The other critical factor is the large scale environment pollution.
Encroachment, unauthorized construction, clearing forests, setting fire to forests, reclamation of mangroves and dumping of garbage have caused immense damage to the Negombo lagoon. To top it off, recently commenced removal of sediment from the lagoon bed has aggravated the damage. These human activities have made an irreversible adverse impact on the lagoon. Traditional fishermen too face many problems due to such activities done in the name of development.
Due to tourism many unauthorized structures have come up along the border of the lagoon resulting in the destruction of mangrove vegetation. A resident fisherman in the area described the destruction caused due to the removal of mud from the lagoon thus, “Fish have no place to breed because mangroves have been destroyed. The shrimp, crab and fish population in the lagoon is dwindling due to the removal of sediment from the lagoon. Moreover the destruction of fish eggs and the change in water conditions have worsened the problem.” Shrimp and crab farming is also affected by this.
The removal of sediment in the lagoon is not a sound development activity and creates severe problems for the environment and the livelihood of fishermen. Unless a collective effort is not taken, the ill-effects of degrading the environment will boomerang on us sooner or later.
(Translated by Ananda Elkaduwa)