Cleaning the slick using sacks to absorb oil
Pics by Pradeep Pathirana and Nimalsiri Edirisinghe
ikovita and Uswatakeiyawa are popular beach destinations among local beachgoers frequenting the Western coast. Unfortunately, the beach stretch is not available anymore for beachgoers due to an oil leakage that occurred off the coast in Dikovita, on the night of September 08.
Sea, beach and water breakers in the area were covered with furnace oil resembling a black blanket thrown over the sea. The Navy, Army, Coast Guards and volunteers jointly cleaned the beach manually. It took nearly two to three days to complete the cleaning.
The beach became clearer gradually during the past two weeks, despite the rocky mound areas, having tiny ponds, being spoiled by layers of oil.
The pipeline carrying oil to Kerawalapitiya Refinery Complex in Muthurajawela had leaked the oil in mid-ocean. A joint group is investigating the incident to find the location of the accident and whether it was caused by the UAE ship which was unloading oil.
Dr. Terney Pradeep Kumara, General Manager of Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) says that roughly about 10 tonnes of furnace oil had leaked into the sea following the accident. They had managed to clean the slick up to 60% and they expect the residue to decompose naturally.
“The oil patch spreads 2 Km around the Thaldiyawatta beach. Nature will take three to five months to clean the residue. But it might take five or more years to decrease the total impact of oil on the ecosystem. The oil residue on rocks and the beach are practically difficult to clean and if we take cleaning to that level, it will definitely damage the ecosystem at a more serious level,” he explained.
“People used to bathe and play on this beach, but after the oil spill, all the activities on the beach must stop until it restores.” he emphasised.
"The oil residue on rocks and the beach are practically difficult to clean and if cleaning is taken to that level, it will definitely damage the ecosystem at a more serious level"
Dr. Deeptha Samarathunga, Senior Scientist from Environmental Studies Division of the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) said they have been carrying out an investigation from September 09 and they cannot comment on the damage without completing it and analyzing the full report. He further said that the preliminary report would be released within two weeks, and the full report would take three to five months to be completed. The research will monitor how the fisheries, local and foreign tourists have been affected.
"The beach had been their livelihood for years. Nobody comes here to bathe in the sea anymore and it has impaired Their business and lives. Sometimes they used to earn more than 3000 rupees a day"
“The oil spill impacted the beach stretch from Dikovita up to the Negombo area and the stretch from Dikovita to Pitipana contained oil patches until September 20,” he said.
A source from Ceylon Petroleum Storage Terminals Ltd, (CPTSL) meanwhile confirmed that the joint group removed the slick within two days of the accident upon the request of the villagers and the institution is getting ready for the courts’ procedure in the future.
Henri Rodrigo, a grocery shop owner in Thaldiyawatta, opposite the popular ‘Besama’ Beach said that the beach had been their livelihood for years. “Nobody comes here to bathe in the sea anymore and it has impaired our business and lives. Sometimes we used to earn more than 3000 rupees a day,”said Rodrigo.
He said that the water breaker was a newly added feature to avoid severe sea erosion after construction of the Port City was initiated.
The beach became clearer gradually during the past two weeks
They had managed to clean the slick up to 60%
“Sand mining is the main culprit of sea erosion here. Four or five deaths occur annually when the drunken visitors who are unable to control themselves meet up with deep underwater slopes. Those sharp slopes are a result of sand mining. The oil leakage in 2015 destroyed the mangroves and this time the beach, the sea and our livelihoods were not spared,” he said.
He noted that though the beach is an attraction, it is not developed nor managed by the Government. “If they develop this as a beach park in the future, it would be beneficial to us as well as visitors. He mentioned that there were problems in their village such as unsatisfactory lighting facilities on the road along the beach, problems regarding waste management and issues with drunken visitors.
Villager Antony Jude said that the unpleasant chemical odour of heated oil during midday was suffocating them day and night. “The contaminated sand and rocks are still there on the beach, and it will wash into the sea after the Waarakan (off season for fishing) when the sea roughen,”
Mahaweli Development and Environment Ministry is planning to purchase a high-tech ocean cleaning vessel to clean the waste in saline water and also the14 tourist beaches in Sri Lanka under a special project, according to informed sources.
"Though the beach is an attraction, it is not developed nor managed by the Government
The research will monitor how the fisheries, local and foreign tourists have been affected"
On the much celebrated International Coastal Clean-up Day, which falls on September 15, the islanders held coastal clean-up programmes. Meanwhile, this accident occurred in the West coast in Sri Lanka and experts are still investigating on the extent of damage.
Authorities should take strict measurements to ensure similar incidents do not repeat. This sensitive ecosystem will take more time to recover. If the furnace oil leaks into the Negombo lagoon, the aquatic environment consisting fauna and flora, a fishing community and fish consumers are at stake.