Young Zoologists’ Association opposes Fisheries Ministry move: ‘Mangrove ecosystems must be protected’ | Sunday Observer

Young Zoologists’ Association opposes Fisheries Ministry move: ‘Mangrove ecosystems must be protected’

1 September, 2019
Jagath Gunawardana
Jagath Gunawardana

A recent attempt by the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture to acquire 9,197.8ha of mangroves from protected areas for aquaculture projects contradicts the Governments’ attempt to restore 10,000 ha of mangroves while destroying an important ecosystem, jeopardizing the livelihood of traditional fishing communities, the Young Zoologists’ Association said at a press conference recently.

A Gazette Extraordinary issued under Clause 38 of the Fisheries and Aquatic Act on May 8, 2017 lists land to be released to the National Aquaculture Development Authority. These include 1300 hectares from Wedithalathivu, Mannar, 100 hectares from Kalamitiya, Hambantota, 8 hectares of Kirinda lagoon, over 40 hectares from Puttalam lagoon, 65 hectares from Talaimannar island, 28 hectares from Cod Bay, Trincomalee, 29 hectares from Powder Bay, 25 hectares from Galle Harbour, including reserved forests, conservation forests, national reserves and sanctuaries, and other stated forests, where the protected status will be removed. “Talaimannar has Venkalai Sanctuary on one side and Adam's Bridge Marine National Park on the other. It’s not clear as to where these lands will be taken from,” said Enviornmentalist and Attorney-at-Law Jagath Gunawardana speaking at the conference.

The observations were attached from the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Development to a Cabinet Memorandum containing the President’s proposals. According to him, these observations, contradict each other.

For example, the first observation recognises that the aquatic environment and the environment utilised for fisheries has an inherent connection. The protection of aquatic environment would facilitate achieving a sustainable fisheries industry as well as sustainable development, he said. However, this contradicts with the third point which says the land suitable for coastal aquaculture industry lies within the areas of mangrove ecosystems and if it is not possible to use these lands for aquaculture, there will be a negative impact on the economy due to lack of fisheries activity, in addition to the negative impact on the livelihood of the farmers who depend on these mangrove ecosystems.

The third point is untruthful,Gunawardana noted.“It says, if the mangrove ecosystems are not used for aquaculture projects, the fishery industry will have a negative impact along with a negative economic shock and a decrease in the livelihood of the fishermen. The fishery industry depends on the mangrove ecosystems, the destruction of which will also destroy the livelihood of these farmers. Also, it is the companies that are involved in aquaculture projects, not traditional fishermen, so this project will not provide a livelihood for fishermen,” he said.

This fact is acknowledged in the fifth point, which speaks of building ‘Crab Cities’ involving foreign investors. This contradicts the third point again, he said

The second point speaks of fish diets as protein needs of the people. On average a person consumes only 45g of fish per day, which is expected to increase to 60g via the consumption of the produce of these aquaculture projects. “We know it is the low income groups that suffer from protein deficiency. However, we would like to know whether low income groups can afford to consume shrimps and crabs cultivated in aquaculture farms. This is a blatant lie since the produce from aquaculture farming is expensive and is aimed at the export market,” Gunawardana said.

Point 10 notes the need to control the spread of mangroves, emphasizing the blockage of waterways due to the rapid growth of mangroves, converting lagoons into islands with time, creating an imbalance in the ecosystem and disrupting the biodiversity in the area, hence the importance of development and conservation taking place hand in hand.

Head Instructor – Plant Study Group YZA, Dilup Chandrawimal debunks myths in this statement. Mangroves were created in the Cretaceous Period, about 150 m years ago and evolved due to pressures from external factors. He said that mangroves should not be taken into the control of humans without conducting a scientific study.

“The disruption of waterways and uncontrolled growth takes place when mangroves are planted without adequate scientific study. Mangroves are an ecosystem with high productivity. As Environmentalists we request aquaculture projects not be conducted. They are not sustainable and can last only four to five years as the habitat degrades after this period. It is not worth the cost of losing these ecosystems and their direct services to society and the environment,” he said.