Sri Lanka being an island nation is blessed with a beautiful coastal belt and an enchanting paradise underwater consisting of a whole new world of aquatic life that amaze anyone with its beauty and ecological diversity.
Among the many underwater nature reserves in Sri Lanka there are a few that are very famous due to their uniqueness. One such place is Hikkaduwa National Park which is one of the three marine national parks in Sri Lanka. The national park contains a fringing coral reef and is also the home to rare varieties of wildlife and vegetation. Moreover Hikkaduwa national park is considered to possess one of the best coral gardens in Asia and was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary on May 18, 1979 and on 14th of August 1988 was upgraded to a Nature reserve. To further protect the reef and the surrounding ecosystem, it was declared as a national park on 19th September 2002.
Pigeon Island National Park is another marine national park in Sri Lanka which is renowned for its biodiversity. The national park contains some of the best remaining coral reefs in Sri Lanka leading it to be designated as a Sanctuary in 1963 and later to be named as a national park.
The Bar Reef of Kalpitiya peninsula is a complex of reefs which is known as one of the few pristine coral reef systems with high ecological and biological significance due to which the bar reef was declared a marine sanctuary in 1992.
However at present these underwater nature reserves are threatened to loose their biological as well as aesthetic value due to suffering from high degradation resulted by both natural and human activities. Despite being declared as protected areas these nature reserves are subjected to constant exploitation due to human activities including pearl fishing, coral mining removal of breeding ornamental fish and negligent fishermen practicing unsuitable fishing methods such as setting up dynamite under water to catch their pray and blowing up the entire ecosystem unnecessarily. Furthermore uncontrolled tourism has caused reef degradation and loss of biodiversity in these nature reserves. And the excessive numbers of tourist and fishing boats emit a huge amount of exhaust fume of kerosene which doesn’t burn completely and mixes with the sea water harming the ecosystem underneath. Apart from these discharge of sewage, fertilizer and other effluents from domestic sources and hotels located in coastal areas in to the sea causes eutrophication and sedimentation ultimately resulting in death of wildlife and vegetation in these marine nature reserves. Other than the human activities natural causes like coastal erosion and El Niño effect which is resulted by global warming are also threatening the safety and existence of underwater nature reserves.
While enjoying and taking the benefits we could from these underwater nature reserves it is our duty and responsibility not to over-exploit them and to ensure their protection. There are precautions already taken by the government authorities such as the Department of Wildlife Conservation and Central Environmental Authority. And there are enough and more laws enacted, in order to prevent over-exploitation of these reserves, such as the Fauna and Flora Protection Act, the Coastal Conservation Act, the Marine Pollution Prevention Act and the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act. But the problem is just having laws and conventions have not produced the expected outcome in terms of protecting underwater nature reserves. So the best way to ensure protection of underwater nature reserves is to bring out positive reactions from the public itself and to make sure they are genuinely interested in preserving the underwater nature reserves. In order to do that it is necessary to raise public awareness regarding the threat to these nature reserves due to negligent human activities and make them understand the value and importance of preserving the underwater nature reserves. Other than that it’s better to take measures to control tourist activities, for example by allowing activities like diving and snorkeling only during the seasons. This would give the underwater ecosystem time to recover during off season periods. Apart from these reducing pollution and abiding by the rules and regulations enacted by government authorities will also ensure the preservation of underwater nature reserves.
So ultimately preservation or degradation of these precious wonders of nature is in our hands. Whatever the measures the authorities take if we don’t respond positively and act accordingly there won’t be a positive result. That is why it is important for us to act responsibly and contribute proactively towards preserving the underwater nature reserves. If we don’t take prompt action and do our part, the breathtakingly beautiful sight won’t take that long to turn in to an eye soring sight.