A year ago, the two kilometer swim to the island reef, directly south from the base of the horse-shoe shaped bay, was through deep water.I swim every day, weather permitting. The azure blue water of the Indian Ocean, sometimes cloudy from the churn of the current, reveals the true extent of the effect of the man-made breakwater. Running long, wide and deep down to the ocean floor, across the western side of the mouth of the bay, its existence has altered the ebb and flow of the sea that washes around the bay.
Now I can clearly see the ocean floor as far as the island reef and water is warmer. The bay is slowly but surely filling up with sand. The western side of the bay which ends with the spectacular headland, has a long spit of sand, forming day by day. In contrast, the eastern side and running through to the mid-point of the horse-shoe; roughly half of the total area of the beach, is being eroded at an alarming rate.
Only a rock fortification, hastily constructed in the last few months by the Coastal Conservation Department, is holding back the complete destruction of half of the shore line. The aesthetic balance of the bay and the safe swimming has been destroyed.
Not enough has been written about Unawatuna Beach and the fate that has befallen it. The media, Tourist Board, tourist industry, the agents of conservation and ecology, t he oceanographers and government bodies have kept quiet, shown indifference or given hollow assurances of rectification.
Only the businesses directly affected; the local fishermen and the sellers of local crafts have put their heads above the invisible parapet wall and protested and lobbied for something to be done.
And now, as I see returnee guests scratch their head in disbelief at what they find and witness a once thriving community lose its livelihood. As I watch beach combers, locals and tourists stumble across uneven, slippery rocks, sometime avoiding dangerous waves to get to the other end of the bay, my anxiety for the future stability of the bay increases daily.
Sand is being pumped to cover our rock strewn shore line. This is a short term solution. With the current so strong and t he unseasonal rain lashing t he shore, the sand will inevitably be washed away. The root of the problem should be addressed first, before public money is spent. Rumour, speculation, uncertainty, uneasiness and fatalism pervades. Talk of creating breaks in the breakwater, building groins and growing natural sea defenses swirl around us like the ocean that simultaneously nourishes and destroys our livelihoods.
One thing is for certain. Unawatuna Bay’s beauty remains undiminished. This natural treasure should be cherished by the nation, nurtured and protected. We all ignore Unawatuna Bay’s future at our peril.