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Sustaining coastal ecosystems in Sri Lanka

The 2004 tsunami severely damaged coastal vegetation in Sri Lanka (© MFF)
The 2004 tsunami severely damaged coastal vegetation in Sri Lanka
© MFF

In eastern Sri Lanka, the 2004 tsunami severely damaged coastal vegetation, which had previously been a barrier to erosion and inundation. Coastal mangroves have also been depleted, decreasing fish stocks and placing field crops at greater risk of flooding. In this region of South Asia, almost three-quarters of the population live along the coast. Poverty and natural disasters are just two of many factors that are putting both coastal and marine resources under pressure, with potentially disastrous consequences for economies and ecosystems. In response, the Mangroves for the Future (MFF) initiative is working to forge links between an improved quality of life and good coastal management.

In the village of South Kumana, in south-east Sri Lanka - one of eight countries where the initiative is operating - the community decided that restoring the damaged 'green belt' was a priority. Twelve local women were trained in planting techniques and nursery management, and given responsibility for the community's mangrove nursery, raising 3,000 seedlings on an area protected by a live fence of coconut and palmyrah frond, and irrigated by a specially dug well.

Running along the shoreline, the new 1,200 square metre green belt is expected to provide much needed protection from storms and high tides. The women have also set up a coastal conservation society, called Dilena Tharua (Shining Stars), in order to continue to maintain the green belt. Training in enterprise development was another part of the project, and as a result, two women have set up lobster fishery businesses. Five others have started to grow vegetables, pulses, chillies and peanuts in their gardens, assuring their families of fresh vegetables and providing additional income.

Protecting biodiversity

In the Puttalam lagoon, an area famous for its biodiversity, fuel wood harvesting has damaged mangrove ecosystems and led to a decline in fish catches. A local fishery society (Semuthu Fisheries Cooperative Society) secured a grant from MFF to restore mangroves and educate the community on their importance to the local ecosystem and livelihoods. In 2009, members of a local fisheries cooperative were trained in nursery management, and seven nurseries were established, which raised over half of the 24,000 seedlings later planted by the community to replace lost trees.

Seven mangrove nurseries were established in 2009 (© Satish Trivedi/TCSR)
Seven mangrove nurseries were established in 2009
© Satish Trivedi/TCSR

Fuel-efficient stoves were also supplied to 30 community members, reducing their use of mangroves by 50 per cent. In addition, 400 school children and 65 members of the cooperative society participated in awareness-raising activities, highlighting the importance of protecting mangroves. As a result, mangrove cover has increased significantly, restoring the lagoon's biodiversity and improving the habitat for fish.

In the community of Rekawa, the Ruhunu Development Consortium has tackled extraction of mangroves for fuel wood by introducing bamboo, which also binds soil and prevents erosion. Three community-based nurseries were established after community members were trained in raising planting material. During the project, 4,500 plantlets were propagated which were used to plant 15 hectares of riverbanks, home gardens, schools and temples. The demand for bamboo has increased substantially and all three nurseries are continuing to produce plantlets to meet the demand.

Strengthening sustainability

To further reduce pressure on fin-fish and crustacean fishery in Puttalam lagoon, the Marine and Coastal Resources Conservation Foundation (MCRCF) trained 15 women to cultivate Aloe vera. MCRCF also set up a contract with a leading cosmetic company in Sri Lanka. With a guaranteed market, cultivation has expanded, the monthly income of the families involved has increased by 26 per cent and fishing has decreased by 5 per cent, reducing pressure on the fisheries resources. Today, 44 families are growing Aloe vera and with a constant supply, the cosmetic company has also stopped collecting wild Aloe vera, helping to conserve biodiversity. "While it is too early to demonstrate long term impacts, there is evidence to support the principle that promoting alternative livelihoods leads to increased income and reduction of natural resource overexploitation," says Dr Janaka De Silva, MFF programme manager.

Planting mangroves restores biodiversity and improves the habitat for fish (© MFF)
Planting mangroves restores biodiversity and improves the habitat for fish
© MFF

To scale up the projects and share their learning with other agencies and policymakers MFF is working to link communities to government agencies. For example, when communities demonstrated the feasibility of cage culture in a small project in Madu Gangain, Sri Lanka, the government provided additional cages to the fishery society to expand cage culture production. "The structure of MFF enables the lessons and project strengths to be raised from the community-level to the national and regional arenas, and to promote sustainable, healthy ecosystems," Dr de Silva adds. "Peer-to-peer learning has also proven to be a valuable tool for sharing knowledge among communities."

Looking to the future, MFF will continue to work with coastal communities to introduce sustainable coastal management initiatives which can be scaled up and used to influence policy. "It is hoped that these ventures will help in managing coastal resources sustainably, and at the same time enhance incomes of local communities to wean them off unsustainable practices," concludes Dr Ranjith Mahindapala, MFF programme manager.

With contributions from: Dr Janaka De Silva, Mangroves for the Future Programme Manager

Date published: June 2011

 

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