12/14/2010, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Sri Lanka: environmentalists against Negombo lagoon tourism project

by Melani Manel Perera
A press conference spells out the serious impact that the Sea Plane project will have on the area. At the expense of fish and 25 species of migratory birds that live there. The statements by environmentalists join the many pleas of fishermen, for whom the lagoon is the only means of livelihood.

 Colombo (AsiaNews) - Environmentalists say that the Government's Sea Plane project will destroy the lives of 15 thousand fishermen, and transform the Negombo lagoon into an ecologically dead area. They reiterated this view at a press conference organized by the Alliance to Protect the Negombo Lagoon (Apnl), held Dec. 8 in Colombo. The project – deeply contested – will introduce seaplanes to promote tourism in difficult to reach areas. The airstrip, two kilometres long and 100 meters wide, crosses the Mada Bokka zone (the northern part) considered the heart of the lagoon. The construction of the runway is currently stalled.

Sajeewa Chamikara of the Environmental Conservation Trust, said: " This is not about a size. They are digging up the area that is most vital to the health of the entire Negombo lagoon eco-system. Even if we forget the damage to the environment or to the livelihoods of 15000 Fisher folk, there are major technical and legal issues that badly effect with this project. I do not understand how far it will be feasible". Indeed, he points out that environmental laws make it mandatory for a project of this scope, to do an "environmental impact assessment (IEA), and a feasibility study. But officials in charge do not seem to have done so. "Even in the absence of a feasibility study - continued Chamikara - the airlines of Sri Lanka and the Ministry of Ports and Aviation have invested billions of rupees of taxpayers money in a project without identifying two main technical issues.

Another problem claimed by environmentalists is linked to the fauna of the lagoon. Of the more than 150 species of birds that live there 25 are migratory species, a protected category. As recalled by Ajantha Palihawadana, CEO of True Nature Conservation: "Normally planners try to keep away from areas with high bird populations because bird strikes can lead to disaster. We can’t kill them because there are a large number of migratory birds and according to the international conventions we have signed to protect these birds and we can’t harm any of these. Therefore, the authorities will have to hire a separate staff to scare away the birds when there is a landing or a take off”.

The Sea Plane project involves the construction of the runway near the mouth of the Dandugam Oya river, which carries hundreds of tons of sediment. This would gradually cover the runway, which would need to be cleared 3-4 times. In short this would bring an additional financial, as well as ecological cost.

K.V.P. Ranjit De Silva, Secretary of the Ministry for Ports and Aviation, told the local Lakbima newspaper that the government recognizes the importance of tourism, and seaplanes as a means of tourist transport. He also added that the government will pursue this project, and are studying the possible effects, to minimize the consequences on the fish and fauna of the lagoon.

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