By Shabiya Ali Ahlam
In an effort to conserve the nation’s marine habitats, Sri Lanka’s Live Tropical Fish Exporters Association (LTFEA), the industry body representing ornamental fish exports, will kick-start a ‘Coral Reef Enrichment Programme’ in the East next month.
Aimed at cleaning coral colonies to help improve marine habitat ecosystems, the program is a step towards overcoming challenges of marine pollution.
The Coral Reef Enrichment Initiative will be held on 17 August in Trincomalee and would see over 250 divers and industry stakeholders come on-board. The programme is organised by members of the Live Tropical Fish Exporters Association along with the Ministry of Fisheries, Export Development Board (EDB), Department of Quarantine, Sri Lanka Navy, National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA), and National Aquaculture Development Authority (NAQDA).
Organisers shared that it would move on to Hambantota next and eventually aim at executing the programme in other regions of the country.
Commenting on the initiative, EDB Chairperson Indira Malwatte said focus on protecting the marine ecosystem is essential as Sri Lanka looks to increase its exports in the live ornamental fish sector.
“Just as land is important to farmers, the marine habitats are important to our ornamental fish exporters. We contribute to only a small proportion of the global ornamental fish sector and if we are looking to improving in that area it is essential for us to safeguard the coral reefs”, said Malwatte during the launch that was graced State Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Dilip Wedaarachchi.
She cautioned that failing to do so will result in Sri Lanka witnessing a decline in population in a number of species, which in turn would impact export volumes and earnings of this sector.
Whilst the global ornamental fish exports stand at US $207 million as of 2015, Sri Lanka accounts for Rs. 17 million and ranks as the world’s fifth largest exporter. The sector provides direct and indirect employment for over 100,000 persons.
According to statistics from NAQDA, the ornamental fish exports industry’s economic contribution as foreign exchange income to GDP has grown from Rs. 560 million in 1999 to over Rs. 2,300 million in 2015.
Noting Sri Lanka’s aquarium fish industry maintains a growth rate of 4.7 percent, LTFEA said it will look to expand its foothold by breeding high value marine ornamental fish, including
new varieties and rare species endemic to the tropical island.