Sri Lankan never recognized the importance of mangroves cover that occupy most coastal strips and interior lagoon areas; consequently, two-thirds of the island’s mangroves have been lost in the past few decades. Worst hit was the mangroves cover that existed along southern coastal strip in the Jaffna peninsula north of the island.
Mangroves in Sri Lanka provide wood and timber for housing, firewood, and charcoal to coastal households and almost 75% of the coastal population extracts firewood from mangrove forests. The coastal community also depends on mangroves for bottle caps and ornamental production. Little did they know that mangroves played a role in combating the climate crisis because of its carbon-storing superpowers, locking down more carbon than a terrestrial forest the same size. Mangroves are a valuable ecological and economic resource to Sri Lanka. According to the Department of Forest Conversation, Sri Lanka is home to over 20 mangrove species. Yet today these mangroves extend over an area of 15,670 hectares and 0.2% of the total forest cover.
As per 2017 statistics, the coastal, inland and offshore fisheries contributed 1.3% of the GDP of Sri Lanka, however it is a fact that there has been a decline in coastal fishery production by 5.3% while inland aquaculture, shrimp, and prawn production declined by 7.9 % and 23.4 % compared to 2016. Mangrove depletion is considered as being among the reasons for this depletion, indicating that the survival and healthy growth of mangroves are crucial components in the sustainability of the fishing industry.
When the peninsula was truncated for security reasons from the mainland during the civil war years; with people living without electricity, fuel and unavailability of mainland firewood, forced them to resort to uprooting mangroves, it resulted in the destruction of the coastal and lagoons mangrove covers. While in the rest of the island, mangroves were uprooted to make way for expanding cities, coastal development and shrimp farms, as people were only looking at short-term profits, consequently destroyed the environment.
Earlier on December 26, 2004, as cataclysmic tsunami struck the coasts of Sri Lanka, one of the worst affected nations, when wall of water⁰ devastated the island’s southern and eastern coasts.
Yet scientists assessing the landscape after the disaster discovered that tsunami’s impact was uneven with some places suffering far more damage than others, while areas which emerged relatively unscathed were protected by their ancient mangrove forests.
For many fishing families living along the coastal villages in Northern and Eastern provinces fish, prawns, shrimp and crabs, ensure their families have enough to eat. While mangroves are trees which unlike other plants thrive in saltwater and have been in good stead for these families for generations.
Thus in 2015, Sri Lanka announced that it would protect all of its mangroves — the first country to make that declaration and the tsunami experience wasn’t the only factor in the decision. For mangrove forests help to create healthy seas as they act as nurseries for fish, prawns, crabs and other marine animals that breed among the trees’ stilt-like roots.
On a short visit to Jaffna peninsula over the weekend; it was very refreshing to see the mangroves cover conservation efforts of the relevant authorities bearing fruits along the southern coast. Visible while driving along the southern coast on Kalundai Road, incidentally it is also getting rejuvenated, long overdue since the war was brought to finish in 2009.
Tokyo Cement’s silent mission restores mangrove forests in Trincomalee, more details on website http://www.ft.lk/environment/Tokyo-Cement-s-silent-mission-restores-mangrove-forests-in-Trincomalee/10519-696264?fbclid=IwAR0UXXfNTm57YVxkw4Ww8JYnswNNqtHWKGQFWhqQbo6vaKhx_o6yxKro7tw#.XmTJMR3MP_Q.whatsapp