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Call to protect Sri Lanka's largest wetland

Biodiversity of Muthurajawela sanctuary is under threat as authorities give approval to fill up wetland

UCA News reporter, Colombo

UCA News reporter, Colombo

Published: July 09, 2020 03:55 AM GMT

Updated: July 09, 2020 04:03 AM GMT

Call to protect Sri Lanka's largest wetland

Environmentalists have called for an end to filling up Muthurajawela sanctuary, Sri Lanka's largest coastal wetland. (Photo supplied)

Environmentalists have urged authorities to stop attempts to fill up Sri Lanka’s largest coastal wetland, Muthurajawela sanctuary.

Sajeewa Chamikara, an environmentalist from the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform, said authorities have already given approval to fill up the wetland.

Chamikara, executive director of the Environmental Conservation Trust, said boundary marking is underway to fill up 50 acres.

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"The landfill will affect the survival of Negombo lagoon, including the breeding grounds. The marshland was listed as one of the 41 most important wetlands in the country and was recognized as one of the top 12 wetland systems in Sri Lanka," said Chamikara.

The wetland acts as a natural hatchery for many different species in Negombo lagoon. It supports natural flood control as a buffer zone. The wetland is important for a highly diverse ecosystem.

The wetland was declared a sanctuary on Oct. 31, 1996, under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. It was also named one of the 41 internationally important wetlands in the country by the Asian Wetland Inventory of 1989.

According to a study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Muthurajawela is home to 209 species of animals along with 194 species of trees, 40 species of fish, 31 species of reptiles, 102 species of birds and 48 species of butterflies. There are 18 out of 22 mangrove species in Muthurajawela wetland.

Priests, nuns and laymen rallied to protect Muthurajawela sanctuary in 2017. They organized two protest campaigns and discussions with officials against dumping garbage at the wetland.

The Church organized a Mass, demonstrations and talks with government officials to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the country’s largest wetland.

Chamikara said Muthurajawela wetland along the Negombo lagoon, which occupies 4,360 hectares, is protected and has ecological value.

He said government officials have already given permission to fill up the wetland, violating the Environmental (Amendment) Act and Antiquities (Amendment) Act.

Nilushi Wickrama, an environmentalist, said the area is known for its beautiful butterflies and different species.

"The biodiversity of the wetland supports many animals and plants. The authorities cannot give permission to fill up a wetland without following proper procedures. The government should take immediate action to protect the wetland," she said.

She said it is unfortunate that Catholics have not taken Pope Francis’s Laudato Si' encyclical on the environment seriously and put it into practice as a testament of Christian witness.

Disaster struck in 2017 when a garbage dump in Meethotamulla, Colombo, collapsed, killing 34 people and damaging over 100 homes. There was no planning by the local authorities when they began dumping waste on the two-acre marshy patch of land. When locals protested, they were told it was only a temporary measure.

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