Proposed fisheries anchorage at Mawella
Aerial view of the proposed site for the project
- Review on IEE states that tourism sector and Madel operators haven’t been consulted
- Tourism sector stakeholders speculate threat to industry
- SLTB has issued a NOL to carry out project
- Project couldn’t proceed due to lack of funds
- Only few companies qualified in marine constructions
Known to be one of the top five beaches in Sri Lanka, the Mawella beach in Tangalle is a two-kilometre stretch of an undisturbed marine environment surrounded by a Bay. Over the years, a niche market for small boutique properties had emerged in the area and many foreign investors too had shown an interest in developing the area to the level of the French Riviera. But these plans seem to have been short-lived considering the many development projects in the pipeline. One of them is the proposed fisheries anchorage to be constructed at Mawella along with three breakwaters (one linking the land and two others offshore). The area is home to around 500 fishing families and the project is said to benefit both the fisheries as well as the tourism industries. The project is being carried out under the purview of the Fisheries Ministry and the foundation stone is to be laid on December 6.
IEE conducted sans tourism sector consultation?
An Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) has been conducted following the instructions given by the Coastal Conservation Department, which is the project’s approving agency. The report states that due to inadequate infrastructure facilities, multi-day boats are anchored at the Kudawella Fisheries Harbour and the Tangalle Fisheries Harbour. Considering the number of crafts and type of crafts, there is a heavy social demand for fisheries infrastructure development. The project spans Unakuruwa, Moraketiara, Pagathgawa and Kudawella Grama Niladhari Divisions. Applicable laws for the development activity include the National Environment Act No. 47 of 1980, Coast Conservation Act No. 57 of 1981, Marine Pollution Prevention Act No. 59 of 1981, Mines and Minerals Act No. 33 of 1992, Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act amended (2016), Madel Regulations of 1984 and Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance.
The IEE identifies an offshore breakwater as a dynamically stable structure. Location of the offshore breakwaters is selected inside the surf zone and no shore facilities, dredging and reclamation facilities have been proposed.
The Coast Conservation Department had in fact given a detailed guideline on the areas to be addressed in the IEE. However, an independent review of the IEE has pointed out several concerns particularly with regard to the impact on tourism in the area. The review also questions whether the tourism sector stakeholders were adequately consulted. However several sections in the IEE states that this coastal area is used by tourists and is significantly popular for tourist activities. It also states that main economic activities available for the community in the project area are fisheries and tourism.
The review further states that the IEE should have stated the impact on Madel operators who have highlighted the changes in sea wave patterns once the breakwater is constructed. Mitigation measures in relation to tourism haven’t been included. Soil erosion has also been mentioned in several places but the impacts on the presence of Gabions on erosion haven’t been extensively discussed.
views by area fishermen and tourism sector stakeholders
Beach will no longer be swimmable
Nayantara Fonseka of Taru Villas -- a high-end boutique hotel chain -- said: “There seems to be no hope left for us in tourism -- especially the ‘niche’ market sector, in which we at Taru Villas have over the years invested so much money, time and effort.
She said The Fisheries Ministry had obtained the approval to build a fisheries jetty and two surf gabions mid-bay of our beautiful Mawella beach.
“We still keep our staff employed, our property immaculate because we know that this beach is the best the south has to offer our valued guests,” Ms. Fonseka said.
She said this beach stretch is swimmable all year round which is a phenomenon of the south coast of our land. “Without any conversations with us stakeholders of Taru Villas (11 rooms on almost 2 acres ) we found out a few days ago that our beach is going to change drastically -- not only with this eyesore right in front of us, but also because this beach is longer going to be swimmable with the change of currents etc. The beach on the down-drift side of the gabion can be much lower than the up-drift side. This can make them very dangerous particularly for young children,” Ms. Fonseka said
Fishermen at Kudawella harbour complain of a lack of capacity to anchor boats
A threat to the Madel industry
Fishermen speculate that the new anchorage will put an end to traditional offshore fishing practices such as the Madel industry. “During certain months the tide is higher,” said Susantha Ratnayake, a senior Madel fisherman in the area. “We therefore engage in Madel fishing as many fishermen in Mawella do not have boats. But if an anchorage is built, we won’t be able to do Madel fishing here.”
Boats could be anchored at Tangalle or Kudawella harbours
R. P. Roshan has been involved in the Madel industry for around 25 years. “This place is not suitable for an anchorage or a breakwater. Fishermen can anchor trawlers at the Kudawella harbour which is around two km from here. They also have the option of anchoring vessels at the Tangalle harbour. Fishermen in Mawella do not have boats and therefore they don’t need an anchorage.
There are nearly 15 fishermen in this industry. The anchorage will also disrupt regular tourism activities in the area as many tourists come to this beach stretch for a swim. Therefore we urge the President and Prime Minister to suspend this project,” Mr. Roshan said.
He said that putting a breakwater will increase the risk of soil erosion during the high tide season and waste materials from boats will pose a threat to aquatic species. “The erosion will have an impact on surrounding areas such as Seenimodara and Pallikudawa,” Mr. Roshan said.
A threat to tourism
L. Y. Karunasiri is involved in the tourism sector and observes that a new anchorage will pose a threat to tourism as well. “This is one of the most pristine beaches in the country and we do not want an ad hoc project to ruin its beauty. Tourists sometimes arrive in sea planes and land at the lagoon area. All those activities will have to stop if the new anchorage is built,” he said.
However another set of fishermen, especially those who have their own vessels are of the view that a breakwater will protect the shore and give them a chance to anchor their boats without a hassle.
Breakwater will protect the shore and the boats
“Mawella thrives from a fisheries industry and a breakwater will protect the boats,” said Shalika Nilantha, a fisherman in the area. “There are around 70 trawlers in Mawella and those boats are anchored elsewhere.Having an anchorage for us will ensure that our boats are protected.”
When asked if a breakwater would increase a risk of soil erosion he said that an IEE has been done already and relevant approval given.
R. Ramachandra is a fisherman who owns trawlers. “We work with Madel fishermen and they are being given a separate area to do fishing as well. The issue with the Kudawella harbour is that we have to stay there like slaves. We have to wait till fishermen in Kudawella empty their boats and pump diesel to the vessels. As far as we know the tourism industry is minor when compared to the fisheries industry and we need to protect it.”
Kudawella Harbour manager refutes allegations
Later the Daily Mirror visited the Kudawella Fisheries harbour. The situation there is different. While it anchors beyond the required capacity of vessels several rules are in place to ensure that all fishermen are equally treated. “It is not that we treat Mawella fishermen differently but they have to take turns to get oil and water and even when it comes to unloading their catch,” said P. Punchihewa, Harbour Manager at the Kudawella Fisheries Harbour. It is from here that the entire island gets its Mackerel fish (Linna) supply, either raw or dried. So it is a hive of activity from morning and practical issues exist.
He said though an anchorage is setup fishermen also need facilities to change oil and water. “If an anchorage is developed we will not have the capacity issue but it would be better if they also take steps to expand the Kudawella Harbour.”
Landing site for sea planes at Mawella lagoon
All approvals obtained
The Fisheries Ministry however says the breakwater will be constructed to protect the shore. “During high tide the shore gets eroded and around 80 boats in the area have no place to be docked,” Project Director Prabath Ranaweera said. “There are boats along the two-km beach stretch and by putting up this breakwater all boats can be anchored in one place. This will help the tourism ventures along the beach stretch as well. The offshore breakwater will also protect the sea from causing further erosion.”
Speaking about the feasibility study and IEE, Mr. Ranaweera said the planning of this project has continued since 2018. “We have consulted relevant stakeholders and even obtained the approval from Sri Lanka Tourist Board since this area is identified as a Tourism Development Zone. The Coast Conservation Department was the approving agency and they have submitted the IEE to all parties including the Forest and Wildlife Conservation Departments and obtained their ideas prior to approving the project.”
MEPA currently reviewing Waste Management Plan
When a project of this nature is underway the task vested upon the Marine Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA) is to ensure that no pollution takes place in the project area. “We have received the IEE and have asked them to give us the Waste Management Plan,” MEPA General Manager Dr. Terney Pradeep Kumar said. “The CCD has clearly instructed them on how to carry out the operations. We need to ensure that no pollution would take place from machineries or in the form of an oil spill. If the Waste Management Plan is not up to the mark we will send them a letter asking for more suggestions.”
Tender specifications more important than political connectivity
Section 8.10 of the Report includes sources of construction material and transportation and states that materials could be obtained from nearby quarries. For example, based on the collected quotations from feasible quarry suppliers, it is possible to obtain required material from Chanaka Metal Pvt. Ltd. Area fishermen told Daily Mirror that the project is a money-making venture for a local politician (now an MP and state minister) running a quarry site in the area.
Responding to the allegation, Mr. Ranaweera said the project has followed due procurement procedures. “We advertised the project and got some two to three bids. There aren’t many companies that specialise in the maritime construction field. After analyzing one of the bidders, which was a joint-venture company was qualified for the project. Therefore it doesn’t matter if it is connected to a politician or not as long as the criteria and specifications for materials are being met.”
When contacted, the politician in question denied allegations and said he has no connection to any such business and did not want to be quoted further on the matter.
Pix by Kithsiri De Mel
Project done on the request of the people
While denying allegations of a local politician’s involvement, State Minister of Ornamental Fish, Inland Fish & Prawn Farming, Fishery Harbour Development, Multi day Fishing Activities and Fish Exports Kanchana Wijesekara said that the project has been in the pipeline for seven years. “The proposal was submitted to the cabinet even before this government came into power.
"Similar projects will be done in Rekawa and Gandhara as well. We are doing this project on the request of the people and the Sri Lanka Tourist Board has also issued a No Objection Letter to carry out the project"
Similar projects will be done in Rekawa and Gandhara as well. We are doing this project on the request of the people and the Sri Lanka Tourist Board has also issued a No Objection Letter to carry out the project.”
When asked if the project was rejected twice Mr. Wijesekara responded in the negative and said that it wasn’t done due to lack of funds. “The approval was granted two months ago and it will be completed within a period of 18 months. But we couldn’t start it due to COVID. Apart from that the Coast Conservation Department suggested to put up a breakwater because it is an area that has erosion.”