Anawilundawa Wetland Regeneration Project: WNPS achieves key milestones with Hemas PLC’s support
Sri Lanka’s current mangrove cover, estimated to be 15,000 to 19,000 hectares, is a mere 0.3% of the total landmass and is critically low; putting the island at risk from the impact of climate change and natural disasters such as storm surges and tsunamis. Mangroves are an integral part of our forests and constitute about 2% of Sri Lanka’s total forest cover – they are very much a part of the fast dwindling 17% of our primary forests.
WNPS’s Accelerated Natural Regeneration of Mangroves (ANRM) project was launched with the goal of regenerating the damaged mangrove habitats in Anawilundawa Wetlands and building sustainable livelihoods in surrounding communities. The project aims to restore approx. 45 hectares (110 acres) of the mangrove ecosystem at Anawilundawa, which have been destroyed due to shrimp farming.
This important conservation project is to be conducted by Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), Department of Forests (FD), Wayamba University (Science Partner), facilitated by the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS). The first half the project was carried out in 2020 and despite the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the project has successfully reached its initial milestones, including recording of the faunal and floral species in a section of the surrounding habitats, creating a mangrove plant nursery using harvested seeds from the site, and establishing baseline data for the project.
Referred to as “blue forests” coastal and marine ecosystems consisting of mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, and tidal salt marshes are some of the most efficient carbon sequestration tools found in nature. They can store up to 10 times more CO2 per unit area than tropical rainforests, making them a powerful weapon against global warming and climate. These natural ecosystems also play a key role in the country’s coastal protection and provide protection from storm surges and catastrophic events like floods and tsunamis. Not only this, mangrove ecosystems provide sustainable livelihoods for many rural communities.
In the late 1990’s over 50% of Sri Lanka’s mangrove habitat was destroyed to establish shrimp aquaculture, severely affecting the functioning of coastal ecosystems. This destruction of ecosystems is compounded by the fact that it also cripples livelihoods that depended on mangroves associated with small industries like artisanal fishing, firewood, herbal medicine, and tourism. Anawilundawa Wetlands was one such damaged habitat, which is a wetland ecosystem of global importance and one of six RAMSAR sites in Sri Lanka. It is home to over 150 species of birds – both resident and migratory, 20 species of mammals, and over 70 species of butterflies, whilst over 50% of the country’s freshwater fish species are found in these waters. Human intervention on restoration of mangrove habitats is needed to ensure that this destroyed habitat is brought back to its original glory, comprising all flora and fauna that were specific to the ecosystem. This requires careful systematic, scientific process of ANRM, with minimal external intervention. In addition, a critical dimension of this process is the engagement of local communities to ensure the regeneration of sustainable livelihoods in the communities that live around these mangrove habitats. The ANRM project takes into account all these elements and WNPS hopes to continue with upcoming project plans, now that the worst of the pandemic seems to be behind us.
WNPS is thankful to Hemas Consumer Brands who have come on board as a long-term financial partner on the ANRM project, to assist the regeneration of mangrove habitats as well as to enhance local livelihoods. Part of Sri Lanka’s Hemas Group, Hemas Consumer Brands, is a leading manufacturer in the beauty and personal care sector. Their operations are focused on the three components of sustainability – environment, social, and economic – and partner with conservation organisations on several environmental conservation projects to protect and restore Sri Lanka’s natural environment.