Kiralakele Mangrove Conservation Resource Center & Biological Garden

Kiralakele Mangrove Conservation Resource Center & Biological Garden

by Christie Fernando
Small Fishers Federation, Pambala, Chilaw, Sri Lanka

27 October 2001

With the implementation of the Coastal Resource Conservation programme, a Mangrove Conservation Centre and Biological Garden at Kiralakele, Ambalantota, in the Hambantota district was set up with a concerted effort to focus on the conservation of mangroves and the bio-diversity of coastal resources with a grant of Rs. 2.5 million from the Seacology Foundation, USA, under the auspices of the Small Fisheries Federation, Pambala, Chilaw recently.

This Centre was primarily set up as a major step towards protecting the coastal environment. The Kiralakele mangrove forest is developed with the aim of creating a keen awareness of the coastal environment and its value and worth among the school children, the adults, the common people and the fisher community in these parts, in the Southern province.

‘Kirala’ is a mangrove plant, which grows in the coastal areas in Sri Lanka, and Kiralakele, which is literally a forest of a mangrove, (Sonneratia caseolaris) at Ambalantota is a captivating site predominating an extent of 80 acres, which will make headway as a coastal mangrove environmental system, and it is earmarked to conserve the trees, fauna and flora, creepers, various aquatic species abounding the area as well as birds and insects for the benefit of the future generation. So, Kirala is a productive plant for the residents of the area. A delicious and nutritional drink is prepared with the ripe ‘Kirala’ fruits that contain a lot of vitamins. People in the area make a living by collecting and selling the Kirala fruits. The price of a fruit is about five rupees.

Kirala roots have emerged from the water level at Kiralakele. It has also an economic value. These roots are used to turn out bottle toppers (corks). It is also learnt that various aquatic species are natured using Kirala roots. According to local indigenous medicine, Kirala fruits, roots, bark and the flowers are treated as Ayurvedic (indigenous) drugs. The Kirala forest is situated in close proximity to the estuary of the main Walawe river in the Southern part of Sri Lanka. During the off fishing season, this estuary is fully covered with sand. Therefore, the river water drifts to the low level, where mangroves are situated. And, this mangrove region is being developed as a fish-breeding centre too. With the increase of the water level, the estuary breaches, and the river water flows out of the mangrove land together with the fingerlings to the sea.

Before the intervention of the Small Fisheries Federation of Sri Lanka, the Kiralakele was an abandoned forest. This mangrove forest was used to dump garbage and for other nefarious activities before the involvement of the Small Fisheries Federation of Sri Lanka to develop the forest area. The community will reap benefits with the launching of the development activities with the people’s participation.

Mangrove forest surrounding the country is increasingly facing a serious threat of destruction. At present, the large-scale businessmen who are engaged in the prawn fishing industry, have already destroyed more than 6000 acres of mangroves in the Puttalam district of Sri Lanka. This industry has hampered the lives of the fishermen with the destruction of mangroves. Appropriate action has been taken against unscrupulous businessmen who were engaged in the destruction of the environment. With the commencement of prawn farming, breeding of aquatic species such as shrimp, crab and other fish fry were affected. On the long run, fish production in the country will diminish, affecting the country’s economy.

The destruction of the coastal environmental systems in the Southern province of Sri Lanka began with the non-formal tourism industry and unauthorized and unsystematic constructions.

The Small Fisheries Federation of Sri Lanka in this connection has adopted a people-based action programme to ensure the coastal resource conservation. It has also taken productive measures to harness the welfare of the fishermen engaged in deep fishing, as well as the small fishermen who are engaged in their traditional fishing activities in shallow lagoons, and also protect them from the middlemen.

Sri Lanka’s fisher community comprises fishermen who are engaged in the fishing industry in shallow seas surrounding the country as well as inland reservoirs and those who are serving in multi-day fishing craft venturing in the deep seas.

The majority of fishermen use traditional fishing gear, which are not hitherto developed. Their economic situation is below par, and their monthly income is between rupees 2000 to 3000. This social group consists of more than 70 per cent of the whole fisher community. They are represented by the Small Fisheries Federation of Sri Lanka. The aim of the Federation is to uplift the living conditions, build up the identity, and conserve the resources of the fisher folk in the island nation.

The Federation has launched three major programmes in achieving this goal. One such programme is social development programme of the fisher community. he main low income group of this community are the fisher women and the youngsters. A special programme has been implemented to develop the living conditions of this group. It has been revealed that only 37 per cent of the total number of fisher women in the island had received some sort of education in the local schools. Others have never received any education at all. Further, it has been found that one out of every six fisher-women is a widow. Therefore, these women have encountered manifold difficulties and hardships.

It was revealed that the situation of youngsters is worse as one out of 14 children in the fisher community do not attend school and a socialization programme has been planned for their benefit.

The second programme is to improve the nutritional level of the people of the fisher community. The target is to increase the protein content of the meal. The reason for the increase of the protein content of the meal is to minimize severe malnutrition of mothers and children in the fishing community. It was learnt that 48 percent of children suffer from malnutrition and 37 percent of mothers are stunted and wasted. Therefore, the Small Fisheries Federation has decided to increase the availability of fish in the reservoirs and inland water bodies. For this purpose, fish breeding centers were set up.

The support of the Seacology Foundation for the coastal resource conservation of the land has been greatly appreciated by the fisher folk community and the school children. The Small Fisheries Federation has extended its gratitude to the Seacology Foundation for its assistance to set up the Mangrove Centre at Ambalantota, which is named the Kiralakele Mangrove Resource Centre.

The Kiralakele area is developed with the aim of creating an awareness of the coastal environment and its value and worth among the school children in the fisher community and the common people in the area, in the Southern province.

It is estimated that more than 800,000 school children will benefit from the Mangrove Conservation Centre. Educational and other facilities are provided to students and other major groups who are engaged in the study of mangrove coastal environment systems. The sole objective of this exercise is to create awareness on this aspect for the benefit of the future generation.

The State affiliated institutions such as the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development, the Southern Provincial Council, Pradeshiya Sabhas, and the University of Ruhuna (Southern) University have extended their assistance to set up the Kiralakele environment centre.

This mangrove forest will be developed as a coastal mangrove environment park and the main objective is to conserve trees, flora, creepers, various aquatic species, birds and insects for the benefit of the future generation. The casual visitors to the site will doubtless, enjoy a lifetime experience.

Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse, Minister of Ports, Shipping and Fisheries speaking at the ceremonial opening of the ultra modern Mangrove Resource Centre and Biological Garden at Kiralakele, Ambalantota said: “It is both our duty and responsibility to conserve mangroves, which are immensely beneficial to mankind, and experts have discovered rare indigenous species of mangroves here. Entrepreneurs may cut down these rare varieties for personal gain and advantage. This will be a great loss to the whole island. Besides, there are also the fauna, flora and birds that inhabit this vast extent of mangroves at Kiralakele, which must be for all intents and purposes preserved.”

Mr. Rajapakse said: “Mangroves should be protected for the sake of prosperity, especially for the sake of our precious children who inherit this land for generations to come. In addition, an overall education should imparted to the residents in these parts regarding the value of mangroves. The study of mangroves is also included as a subject in the curriculum of schools to inculcate awareness in the students on the vital significance of mangroves, fauna and flora. We often see mangroves being denuded in many parts of the island.”

“To nurture and sustain the mangroves, a Biological garden is designed here for visitors. The Small Fisheries Federation, Chilaw, in this context, has unequivocally come to an agreement with us to participate and improve identified areas in the district, like the fisheries rehabilitation work and the upliftment of living standards of backward areas in Hambantota, whilst being engaged in other humanitarian work in Matara and Puttalam districts in Sri Lanka. Hence, we are indeed indebted to this organization , which has extended its unstinted co-operation and assistance in all our endeavors. And, in this instance, their co-operation to preserve the rare species of mangroves that naturally grow in these parts is greatly appreciated. We are happy that the work in this connection is carried out creditably in co-ordination with the divisional secretariat, Ambalantota and the Pradeshiya Sabhas.”

Mr. Anuradha Wickremasinghe Director , Small Fisheries Federation, Pambala, Chilaw said the Seacology Foundation in USA has worked in liaison with the Federation , and was able to rehabilitate degraded mangroves at Kiralakele, and also has established a mangrove arboretum, and constructed raised walkways and observation areas as an eco-tourism project at this location. The small Fishers Federation has also launched community- based awareness programs regarding the important role mangroves play in protecting the coastline and acting as nurseries for numerous aquatic species.

“Seacology was the world’s premier non-profit , nongovernmental organization whose sole and unique purpose was to preserve the environments and cultures of the islands throughout the globe from the Arctic Circle to the south seas, Seacology has launched projects to help preserve island ecosystems and cultures.”

“Seacology searches for situations that not only protect the local environment, but also provides the islanders tangible benefits in return. Too often the islanders around the world are told that they should make financial sacrifices on behalf of the environment, and receive nothing in return. In this respect, in Samoa, Seacology has built a critically needed school in the remote village of Falealupo in exchange for the village chiefs signing a covenant protecting 30,000 acres of pristine rainforest. In Nadago village in Fiji, Seacology is providing funding for basic access road improvements in exchange for a protective covenant preserving a 2000-acre rainforest. This was just one of the manifold beneficial projects undertaken by the Seacology Foundation. Their aims and ambitions are large, yet their programs are successful, because they are locally managed. The Seacology motto was: “Saving the world… one village at a time.” Whilst we owe a debt of gratitude to this Foundation , we should also not forget the fact that the forest cover in Sri-Lanka has been drastically diminished to a bare twenty percent. Hence, we should adopt remedial action for re-forestation and rehabilitation work wherever it is possible as we know the annual rainfall in Sri Lanka has been lamentably reduced to a trickle. And, if suitable and appropriate action is not initiated, more natural habitats that conserve the bio-diversity to maintain the eco-logical balance will be forfeited forever from our midst. Therefore, all and sundry should rally around and coordinate their energies to sustain the nature, which protect man in multifarious ways, Mr. Wickramasinghe pointed out.

He said: “We welcome visitors to this Mangrove Resource Center to enjoy the facilities provided to them. Our main objective is to provide basic information to correct the attitude of many about the mangrove eco-systems, by improving the awareness among the general public in an effort at conservation and management of this valuable resource.”

Mangrove habitats are unique in their own right, and hence in a mangrove biological garden, a visitor can enjoy a grand spectacle of various plants that are especially adapted to thrive in the harsh environment together with aquatic and terrestrial animals. Botanical gardens, Zoological gardens, and perhaps biological gardens are rather familiar sights. Nevertheless , a mangrove biological garden was indeed a special phenomenon among them. Why? It is because the mangrove plants have significant forms and functions, which carry out their tasks only in their very particular mangrove habitat. Accordingly, if one wishes to establish a botanical garden for mangroves, he has to take his botanical garden to the mangrove habitat rather than take the mangrove plants to a botanical garden! Hence the Kiralakele Mangrove Biological Garden is the first attempt to meet the challenge of establishing a park in Sri Lanka,. In this regard, the Small Fishers Federation of Sri-Lanka has exerted its utmost effort to display the various mangrove species and associated animal species in Sri-Lanka. To know how a plant can adapt itself to thrive in such a harsh environment will surprise the novices who visit this Centre, and especially when viewing the mangrove habitat. Any casual visitor who is keen in learning, will know why mangrove plants can be nicknamed ‘mammals in the plant world’ as they continue to thrive and nourish their saplings or young ones till they are ready to accept the challenges of their ruthless habitat Mr.Wickramasinghe added.