Not a lot was known about the Bar Reef in Kalpitiya until recently. However, before we learned its value, we had nearly lost it forever.
The Bar reef is a system or coral reefs just offshore from Sri Lanka’s Kalpitiya peninsula. It has the greatest biodiversity of any coral reef in the waters around India and the largest protected marine area in Sri Lanka.
Although it was declared a marine sanctuary in 1992, the reef remained relatively unexplored or otherwise damaged by interference of man due to the civil war at the time. However, the reef has since taken an even worse spin because of the effects of human activity on and offshore and also due to natural reasons.
Currently there are 10 buoys surrounding the reef too delineate the area as a “No-Go Zone” until coral reefs can recover fully. However, a community effort with support from various national and international organizations is also underway to help save the reef in time.
According to the United Nations Development Program, only 6% of the reef was alive and it was almost completely destroyed.
Nonetheless, it is not just direct human interference that has the reef in a severely damaged state. Another threat to its survival comes from inland.
The mud from the Puttalam lagoon and the Kala Oya, which is connected to the reef falls, into the Bar Reef and causes damage as well.
For decades, there was no damage recorded to the reef as a result of the sediment flow from the river but it was found only recently. The reason for this is the point where the Kala Oya meets the Indian Ocean was very heavily occupied by a mangrove swamp.
Furthermore, coral reefs are also vulnerable to changes in temperature therefore Climate Change plays a prominent part in this.
Aside from Climate change and sediment flow, other human activity has had a more direct impact on the Bar Reef as well. UNDP reports how illegal fishing practices such as the use of dynamite, Laila or Surukku nets are part of the problem. Laila nets in particular are the most damaging of these.
The Enhancing Biodiversity Conservation and Sustenance of Ecosystem Services in Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) project is an initiative of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment in collaboration with UNDP, the District and Divisional Secretariats, the Wildlife Conservation Department, the Wildlife Rangers, and the community, and funded by the Global Environment Facility.
The overwhelming support of Kalpitiya’ fishing and tourism community with support and instruction from UNDP, Ministry of Mahaweli Development & Environment, Department of Wild Life Conservation, the Sri Lanka Navy, ORCA, IUCN academia and other have helped make a significant change to the health of the reef.
The Bar Reef off the coast of Kalpitiya is the most bio-diverse coral form in the island and home to 156 species of coral and 283 species of fish.
Surviving many bleaching events, pollution and natural disasters, it is still one of Sri Lanka’s most valuable natural resources.
The hope is that the reef can be restored to its former glory with the reef at the center of conservation through sustainable development.