By Rohan Gunasekera
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is struggling to cope with growing volumes of marine litter that not only destroy coastal eco-systems but threaten the booming tourism business, with many attractions connected to the coast, scientists said.
Challenges to preserving the quality of the aquatic environment were growing with population settlements increasingly concentrated on the coast, said marine scientist Seyed Azmy.
“A century ago settlements were concentrated inland, along fresh water bodies, not on the coast,” said Azmy, head of environmental studies division of the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA).
“Now settlements are concentrating more and more on the coast.”
Marine litter was a growing problem where settlements were concentrated, Azmy told a forum on mitigating threats and promoting sustainable management of coastal and marine areas.
The Kelani River flowing north of the capital Colombo and the Wellawatte canal on a southern suburb bring in about 6,000 pieces of plastic per day, according to a NARA study, Azmy said.
“This is happening mostly on the west coast where the population is high,” Azmy said. “The problem is actually inland where waste being dumped in water ways flow down to the sea and get stuck in corals and on the sea bottom or brought to the beach with waves and currents.”
Discharge of untreated or partially treated waste water and toxic substances from hotels and industries near the coast was a continuing problem, Azmy told the forum organised by the Embassy of France.
Coral reefs, a top tourist attraction, were being smothered by sedimentation with new coastal structures changing the movement of coastal sediment.
Reef fish were also being over-exploited, Azmy said.
Sri Lanka needs to take urgent steps to protect is marine heritage which is a key tourist attraction, Jean-Marin Schuh, French ambassador to the island said.
“With 4.5 million tourists expected by 2020, there is an urgent need to ensure the sustainability of the tourism industry, including protection of natural resources,” he said.
“The growing tourism sector will have an impact on the fragile environment. Coastal and marine areas are at the forefront of tourism development. Preservation and promotion of these areas are key for eco-tourism and integrating tourism into development projects.”
(Colombo/June 12 2016)