Sunday, 30 September 2018 05:55

Mannar Island destroyed as a migratory bird paradise

The winter abode of thousands of migratory birds to Sri Lanka is fast vanishing from our motherland; destroyed by the human hand. Sri Lanka, the final land mass before the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean opens out to reach The Antarctica, in the deep south is a winter haven. Sadly, Mannar, one of the last birding paradises in Sri Lanka is being ruined by human greed.

Migratory birds would fly long distances from their homelands every winter to find refuge in the warm wetlands of the Bundala bird sanctuary close to Weerwila, creating an amazing panorama of crimson hues, in the bracken waters of the sanctuary. A truly glorious sight for any wild life enthusiast and bird lover to behold!

Several species inhabit relatively shallow water bodies, including saline lagoons, salt pans, estuaries, and large saline or alkaline lakes, and the salt water lagoons and salterns of Weerawila created the ideal habitat especially for the Flamingoes.

Unfortunately, human demands and political power interfered with this natural seasonal biodiversity, as poor policy and decision making as a result of farmers’ agitation in those areas replaced the salt water with fresh water ways, thus depriving the Flamingoes of their winter habitat.

Over the years, the visitors found an alternate place of abode in northern Sri Lanka, particularly Jaffna and Mannar Islands. However now, even Mannar Island is being systematically destroyed as a birders’ paradise as this land too is being used for politically sponsored development. While allegations are rife about politicians being involved in authorizing and supporting the development and buildings in these areas, the responsibility of protecting sensitive areas become the responsibility of all departments and entities engaged in policy and development, and primarily with the Department of Wild Life Conservation (DWLC), to ensure that any development takes place in harmony with nature.

Birding enthusiasts and tourists flocked to Mannar in the recent past where Greater Flamingoes, many species of ducks and waders arrived in large flocks to sit out the winter. Mannar especially became a very popular spot for bird watchers and the entire Mannar Island’s economy flourished. From guest houses, shops, vendors to fishermen, everyone benefitted with the influx of bird life tourism.

The most populated area for migratory birds is the Korakkulam water body and its surrounding areas, where nesting waders settled to sit out the winter. There are marker signs posted by Agrarian Services Department, although it is also believed to be Forest Department land. Last year, the rarely seen Bar-headed Goose and Ruddy Shelducks were spotted in the Korrakulam area.

p14bThere is politically-backed unplanned construction and house building without taking the environment into account.

However, scarcely a year has gone by, and a carpentry workshop and a few dwellings have been built at this site and they have even received electrical connections. Scrub has been cleared to build a playground, allegedly by a politician, who also allegedly has built several homes, a hotel, and a hall, directly opposite the site to bring in settlers from Puttalam. This is the same politician whose name is already tainted with similar issues around Wilpattu, and it looks like he will single handedly destroy this entire district.

The untapped cost to tourism in this area is regrettable. The recently constructed new hotel near Adams Bridge is already doing tremendous damage to the bird life and their breeding on those islands

But the glaring fact remains that these sites should be gazetted and protected to ensure migrants continue to come to our land. The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) therefore feel that the DWLC must take take immediate action to demarcate this site and preserve it for the migrant birds. All development projects that are initiated in such areas should have the EIA approval from the DWC.

Flocks of migrant birds, a rich resource of our biodiversity, will soon be arriving in their numbers and discover their winter home has been intruded by humans once again.

Where will they go?