Saturday, December 12, 2009

Python in Boralesgamuwa

On 9th December 2009 Harsha, Tharaka, Indika and Kanchana got involved in releasing a Rock python (Python molurus) which was caught in Boralesgamuwa in the suburbs of Colombo. We got the message at 4.30 in the evening but the villagers had caught it in the previous night and kept in a barrel under very pathetic conditions. When we phoned the National zoo we were asked to release it to the Attidiya marsh which is a sanctuary where there are lots of people. We were not happy by the idea as we felt that the python will face the same danger again as there is a possibility of getting it caught by people again. When Tharaka and Indika visited the place where the python was kept people have gathered around it and making fun by showing it to the people who have gathered due to news that spread from the previous night. Somehow they were able to persuade the villagers to release the python. Tharaka, Indika and Harsha were able to put the python in to a big bag and transported it to a forest in Avissawella area by a van. The mission was accomplished around 8pm after getting delayed at an Army checkpoint where we had to answer many questions about transporting a python in a bag. However at the end of the day we all were happy as we rescued its life.
Next day morning Kanchana had to face another group of villagers who were trying to kill a Banded Kukri snake (Oligodon arnensis/“ Arani Dath Ketiya”) while she was waiting for kids’ school van. She was alone trying to convince the people that this snake does not harm for people and asked them to help her to catch it. But they were not so please about her request. However she was able to stop men killing the innocent creature and caught it into a bag and released into the reservation in the Bellanwila marsh behind her house. Wow it was a week of snakes!

ECO-V starts its field trips again

After a lapse of few months ECO-V revived its educational visits to different parts of the country again. As the first trip for year 2009, we decided to take our members for 2 days “Thiresi Charika” to war ravaged Eastern province capital Trincomalee by train. Ranjith, chief organizer of the ECO-V was back in action with Harsha in organizing the field trip. We wanted to keep the crowd to minimum as we were not sure what to expect. At last 15 of us started our journey from Colombo Fort railway stain by night train. It was not too bad though we struggled to catch our sleep with hundreds of mosquitoes who got into the train. However we reached Trincomalee by 6 am in the morning on 28th November. We were received by Sarvodaya district coordinator Jeeva aiya and we were ushered in to a van and he took us to sarvodaya guest house.
There was a drizzle when we reached Sarvodaya Centre at Uppuweli but it didn’t stop us having a great day in Tricomalee. After a lovely breakfast we visited Nilaweli beach which is named as one of the most beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka. We were not encouraged to visit the Pigeon Island one of the marine National parks in Sri lanka in the morning .Therefore we decided to go to Thiriyaya, Girihandu Seya temple which is about 33 km away from Nilaweli. It was a very beautiful area where we saw some birds including Jungle fowl, Green bee-eaters and Malabar pied Hornbills. The scenery was so exiting when we climbed the rock where we could see most of the province up to Mullaitivu. There were many ruins of Buddhist pagodas which were supposed to be first build during Lord Buddha’s era. We all were so glad to be there after 30 years of the war where the area is lot of activities for development and re awakening.
On our way back we visited Nilaweli beach again and had a discussion about environmental facts and issues in the area. We were thrilled as the boat men agreed to take us to Pigeon Island in spite of the rough sea condition which had a great risk too. But it was a life time experience and we all were very happy to be there. Everybody enjoyed the sea bath at the end and we returned to Sarvodaya for early dinner. We had a short “Thiresi discussion” after dinner in the beach hut of Sarvodaya and everybody agreed for more frequent meetings and field trips since the war is over.
Next day morning we visited Koneshwaran temple and got into the train at 10am. No body felt tired during the 13 hour train journey as Nanda, Prasanna and Ranjith kept us laughing by making jokes on each other and feeding us with many snacks. We all were very happy as it was a very successful field trip after many months of silence.

Training in Bangalore , November 2009

I had a great opportunity as alumnus of International Training Centre (ITC) at Durrell and also as an alumnus of Conservation leadership Programme (CLP) to participate in a workshop in training on scientific writing for peer reviewed journals. ITC at Durrell sponsored all my expenses for the training and there were 16 CLP alumni in the 5 day workshop held at NCBS campus in Bangalore. Dr. Martin Fisher, Editor of Oryx, the Journal of Fauna and Flora International, UK conducted the work shop while Dr. Charu Mishra and Dr. Uma Ramakrishnan were the co facilitators for the workshop. Stuart Paterson from CLP coordinated the work shop. I also met our dear friend Ramesh Kannan from ATREE India who visited us last year during my stay and had discussions on our future projects. Workshop was a great opportunity to meet my old friends from CLP, Wakid Abdul, Bandana Aul and Supria Juhangwala who were with me during past CLP programmes.

In London and Cambridge

After 5 days in Jersey I had to say good bye to everybody and I flew back to London and joined with Sarah and Tom Bear in Cambridge. Meeting Prof. Nigel Leader Williams at Cambridge University and Sue Stokes (Kate Stokes mom) were the highlights while I was in Cambridge. It was very nice to meet Sue and talk about Kate Stokes Memorial Award training programme for Friends of Mother Earth. Thanks to Tom and Sarah I had a very fruitful time in Cambridge visiting Fauna and Flora International (Meeting with Stu Paterson). It was very nice to meet Nigel Collar from Birdlife International and his daughter Clio Collar who was a volunteer to ECO-V two years ago. After Cambridge , I went to London and stayed with Catherine Faulks and Edward Whitley and family before I came back to Sri Lanka. Discussing the progress of ECO-V and future plans with them was very useful. I came back to Sri Lanka on the 31st of October after a very successful travel in UK.

In Jersey Zoo after 10 years of my first visit

I was lucky enough to get the second training from International Training centre at Durrell, Jersey Zoo in October 2009. This was my 3rd visit to Jersey zoo and I really enjoyed the developments I saw since my last visit in 2007. I was there for 5 days learning about Invasive species management. There were 16 participants from 12 different countries and it was very interesting to share ideas and learn new skills on managing the invasive species. I was so glad to meet my friend Sita from Nepal whom I met at Waheningen International, Netherlands during wetland management course and it was fun to share a room with her again.

I went to Jersey two days before the course started and spent time with my dear friends, June and John. It was very nice to be with them again and to go on horse rides. Meeting John and Judy Banks again after two years was a very happy moment. Talking about changes in Sri Lanka where they were born and talking about common friends was very interesting. I really didn’t have enough time to meet my old friends but just managed to meet Jo, Jamie, Chris, David, Catherine and John Fa. Meeting Dr. Lee Durrell after 10 years was so nice and I am so glad that we had enough time to catch up few things. It was such fun time meeting all trainees from different Islands on the world and all of them came from Islands smaller than Sri Lanka.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mihimadale Hithathiyo…KSMA training Programme

The second part of KSMA training named as “Mihimadale Hithathiyo” was successfully conducted in September 2009. With the success of the 1st part of the training held in May 2009 we all were having so much of confidence for the second part. Out of 20 youth participated in the 1st part 17 were present at the second part. Three have started jobs and one joined with the Sri Lanka army and they could not make it for this time.

It was held at the same venue-Bandaragama Sarvodaya training centre which has most wonderful environment for this kind of training. Lecture theatre was facing to the Bolgoda lake where the trainees had their field excursion on the second day of the training. This was one of the most exiting experience for most of the trainees as it was their first hand experience in educational trip on a boat. Local environmental friendly boats were hired from the fishermen and three fishermen from the area participated in the trip. According to them we were the first team who got their help for environmental activity in their life time even though many tourist hotel are situated in the vicinity of the Bogoda lake.

Prof. Sarath Kotagama, Professor of Environmental science from University of Colombo, Mr. Samantha Gunasekara chief custom officer in Sri Lanka customs and Nanda Kumara (ECO-V member) participated as resources persons. Listening to Prof. Kotagama and Mr Samantha for their inspiring and most important lectures were eye opening event for most of the young participants who have never been exposed to this kind of training before.
Nanda conducted very interesting sessions of Yoga exercises early in the mornings and life saving tips that one should know as a field worker. Both were highly appreciated by the participants. Environmental meditation session conducted early in the morning by kanchana was also admired as at 1st part of the training and this time they wanted to learn it properly to teach other youngsters. Harsha added most of his learning from trainings at Jersey International Training centre and from Conservation Leadership programme which immensely helped to make this training worthwhile.

Poster making competition and other activities like environment and music, environment and culture, religion, history were the sessions they showed a great enthusiasm. Cultural show held at the end of the training gave them the opportunity to perform in front of an audience and that was the second time for such a performance for some of the trainees. The first experience was our first training session in May. A certificate and few awards were awarded for the most outstanding trainee and for the most attractive poster. The evaluation tests conducted at the beginning of the training and at the end of the training showed us the level of change that they have made personally. All the trainees with out any hesitation admitted that the training itself made a huge change personally and it helped them to perform effectively as a team.

No body wanted to leave on the last day but it was the happy end of the Kate Stoke Memorial Award training programme that we organized for CLP award we won in 2008. Everybody didn’t forget to thank Kate-the never seen beautiful lady and the trustees of the KSMA award for giving them the opportunity to learn about Mother Earth.

Friday, October 2, 2009

NGO leaders’ met the environmental Minister

A work shop for environmental leaders in Colombo and Gamapaha district was held at the Central environmental Authority (CEA) on the 14th of September. All registered NGO’s under CEA in these 2 districts were invited by the director General Pasan Gunasena where main objective was to discuss about future involvements of NGOs and problems they faced when involved in environmental conservation in Sri Lanka.

Hon Minister Mr. Patali Champika Ranawaka addressed the gathering with an eye opening presentation on 4 global crisis such as Economical crisis, Fuel crisis, Food crisis and Water crisis. He also explained the way forward as Sri Lakans and our responsibilities as a Nation to overcome these crises.

After the meeting we got an opportunity to express our views. Kanchana and Harsha participated in this workshop.

After 2 months of silence!

Dear all,

We could not write anything on the blog for past two months. That does not mean that we didn’t do any thing important. Our busy lives at work and personal commitments were main reasons to be away from you all. Thushara is still working with Internally Displaced People in the North for their rehabilitation activities and I tried to continue all the work with the help of my ECO-V team and kids also needed my attention more than before as their 3rd term at school has started.

I am going to post few activities for the months of August and September 2009.

Roteracts GO GREEN campaign

I had the chance of visiting to Padaviya area where we have been carrying out research few years back and had the first glimpse of normalcy returning to villages after recent completion of humanitarian operations. We are hoping to go back to that area soon to start our unfinished work.

First Saturday of August I had the chance of giving my message of environmental consciousness to group of youngsters who have decided to commit them selves to be the advocates of serving the mother earth from the anticipating disasters. It was the occasion of my friend Farhah Markan Marker’s induction ceremony as the president of Colombo Mid City Roteract club and she wanted me to be the guest of honor. I met Farah few years back during my expedition with the youth group in India participating in “Youth Yathra” along Yamuna river. We shared common believes and values during the “Yathra” and she wanted me to share my vision with her members at this occasion as she also believes that youth of the world can make a difference in this world taking the leadership in any sphere. I highlighted the importance of individuals’ responsibility in conservation of environment and it was well received by the audience of youth at the ceremony. Roteracters wanted to continue their campaign to go green with ECO-V and promised to have join projects with us in the future. Miss Sri Lanka 2009 and Mr Sri Lanka were also invited as guests of the occasion.

ECO-V wishes Farah all the best for coming year and her crusade to Go Green with the Roterators.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Kanchana is back with Pelicans and Langurs!

I came back from Netherlands after a very successful 3 weeks training course at Wageningen International. It was very difficult to say good bye to training mates as all of them were so friendly and interactive. I think I learnt a lot from them and the course helped me to develop my teaching skills as a trainer and a facilitator. Two Dutch course coordinators; Esther and Ingrid were very helpful and have done a great job in sharpening my skills. I am sure every one who participated in the course was able to get the maximum use of the training. Sri Lankan way of Greeting “Ayubowan” (May all living beings live long) was accepted by everybody as the best way of greeting and all the time we were using that. David my friend from Ghana (see the photo, me and David saying Ayubowan together) particularly wanted to use it for his teaching.

The most interesting thing was meeting one of my good friends after 10 years . Tahir Shawl whom I met at the International training Centre in Jersey Zoo, UK (Durrell) in 1999 was also there in this training and it was a nice surprise (See the photo, me and Tahir). We could not stop talking about our training at Durrell 10 years ago and all our training mates were surprised to hear that we have met long time ago. Tahir is working as a wildlife park warden in Jammu & Kashmir area. I can remember my good friend Robyn Dalzen from CLP programme has mentioned in one of her emails that she was told “The world is very big, but all the nice and interesting people know each other.” So I also agree with that. All good and enthusiastic people in the conservation world seem to be end up meeting again and again and the bond among them is so strong. There are lot to share with each other and I am sure we can make a difference if we keep working as a real nice big family. So my dear 42 training mates, Esther and Ingrid you are so important to me and I miss you all! (See the photo me with Lakshmi the training assistant, Esther and Ingrid). Thanks to Netherlands fellowship Programme for sponsoring me to attend the training.

Soon after I came back I had to start working with the “Kalu Wandura” (Leaf langur) Project. Dr. Rudran who was in Sri Lanka just before I went to Netherlands has given many instructions to the team. We were waiting for him to come to Sri Lanka as the team had never met him before. So it was good to have him here and get his advice to improve the quality of the study. Harsha my colleague has done a great job as an overall coordinator to ECO-V in absence of me.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Kanchana in Netherlands

I found a time to write something about our work in the middle of a training of trainers of wetland Management (TOT) in Wageningen, Netherlands. I came here on the 7th of June and will be getting this training until 27th of this month. This is going to be a very useful training for me as well as for ECO-V as we are currently working on Pelican’s habitats in Sri Lanka. We started on protecting Spot-billed pelican habitats after our work on distribution of Spot-billed Pelicans within Sri Lanka .We realized that their habitats; fresh water man made tanks are in real trouble mainly due to siltation and aquatic alien invasive species. Many fishermen in the freshwater tank habitats are complaining about not taking any actions for this habitat degradation and according to our experience its not that they are not aware of what is happening but they are not stakeholders among the responsible authorities. So ECO-V decided to bridge them and do what ever we can do to protect the pelican habitat for both human and for wildlife. Therefore this TOT will be very useful for our future programmes in getting into new areas that we were not working on.

There are 43 participants from 28 countries. All are mid carrier managers of NGOs and government agencies in their respective countries with more experience in wetland management field. I came here with a help of the fellowship provided by the Netherlands Embassy. There are 39 fellowships given this time out of 300 applicants. So it was a great opportunity to get real experience in wetland management in Netherlands a country which has more wetlands with different level of stakeholder partnerships.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Good Bye Mark! Thank you!

Mark went back after 10 weeks of his stay here and we are missing his friendly support we got throughout his stay. Mark said that he learnt a lot while staying here and it was very helpful for him to acquire more training skills as he conducted many training sessions for various groups like University of Colombo, National Zoo, Field Ornithology group (FOGSL), Young Zoologists Association (YZA), Jetwing Hotels and Girithale Wildlife Training centre and of course my team at ECO-V. We believe that his whole stay with us at our home not only helped ECO-V but for many other government and non governmental organizations and tourism sector as well. This is one good example that our volunteers welcome programme will benefit to many stakeholders in Sri Lanka even in future. Week after Mark went Kanchana went to Netherlands for a fellowship from Netherlands Embassy. She will be trained as a trainer (TOT) of Wetland Management for 3 weeks in Netherlands.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New Blog For Mihimadale Hithathiyo Training Programme

The Kate Stokes Memorial Award Training Programme:- Mihimadale Hithathiyo (Friends of Mother Earth) now has its own blog!
Follow the link (by clicking on the title above) to see many photos from the first part of the training, information about Kate, and the award, and a blog post from Mark Chappell, showing his take on the weekend.
In future, all updates of news, photos and videos that relate to the training programme will be uploaded to the new blog.
Enjoy reading!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Kate Stokes Memorial Training - Mihimadale Hithathiyo (Friends of Mother Earth)

The day we all were dreaming about is past now! Today I am writing this blog with much satisfaction. Last weekend was over with many laughs, smiles and tears…. Today I am telling you all what ECO-V has done for our first ever formal training course for 20 youth in Sri Lanka. Most importantly it was one of the most successful events carried out during our 8 years history. Today there are 20 “Friends of Earth” who got their basic training on Mother Earth who learnt skills and gained experience on environmental conservation.

On the 30th of April we went to a beautiful place close to Colombo which belongs to Sarvodaya (The largest Community based NGO in Sri Lanka). The team from Udawalwa arrived at 3.30pm. After refreshment we started the introduction and ice breaking which were full of fun. All the 20 youth were a bit shy and backward on that day which is natural like in any other training. My presentation about Kate during the introduction was very emotional and all the trainees were touched by the story behind the training. I added a hard copy of the presentation I did on Kate, Kate Stokes Memorial Award and how important this training for us in their folder.

We started the second day at 6am with an environmental meditation which we have been experimenting with for the last 5 years. Concentrating on natural sounds in the surroundings I directed them to spread their loving kindness to all the living beings in the surroundings. Following the meditation all were engaged with nature watching until breakfast. The day was full of brain-storming, relaxing exercises, discussions and fun games. Jennifer, one of my good friends from the USA, who is in Sri Lanka these days came to visit us and conducted a session on expressional art. Trainees have highly commented on this new experience. Overall comments we got at the end of the day confirmed that our effort was a success.

The third day was started with yoga exercises, again concentrating on the sun rise, sounds of the Earth and also on breathing. That was a new experience for all the trainees and they came for the lectures full of energy. We gave the trainees a chance to listen to an expert on cultural values and traditional methods of environmental conservation of Sri Lanka. The evening session was focused on ex-situ conservation and we got the trainees to visit Colombo Zoo. Visiting a zoo is just a fun trip to most Sri Lankans, but for these trainees it was full of information on animals and also many of them said that their attitudes towards animals were changed positively after this visit. On the same night we had a session on dramas and cultural items performed by trainees. A conservation story was given to them prior to the performances and they had to make a drama as an effective awareness activity. All the trainees enjoyed it thoroughly. We (resources persons) also became actors and actresses as Mark directed a role play on the aye-aye from Madagascar.

On the final day we gave a brief introduction about eco tourism. Since the trainees came from Udawalwa, one of the main tourists’ area within Sri Lanka, this guest lecture was very useful for them to think about the environment from an economic angle. We also trained them to be nature guides while doing an exercise which was very interesting for all of them. Then we finished the training with course evaluation. Everybody became very emotional at the end of the training and did not want to say goodbye. However they went with a great hope for the next three days of the training in August after thanking KSMA.

Our volunteers especially Madhubashini and Nanda played their part during all three days of training and I am very much grateful to them. Mark and Jennifer who were with us encouraged and gave the trainees an opportunity to feel that they are part of a well planned focused training. Mark will write his own blog on the training and it will give an idea how all things happened to every one who reads the blog. I thank Mark for being part of the ECO-V team for the past few months and shouldering our responsibility of writing the blog for us.

Mark is also working on the manual of the KSMA training; new web lay out for ECO-V and the report on Pelican conservation at Udawalawa before he ends his period with us on June 1st.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Suba Aluth Awuruddak Wewa!

Last week, I was very lucky to be able to experience Sri Lankan New Year in the traditional way amongst Kanchana’s family.

One of the best things about my stay has been having the opportunity to encounter many parts of Sri Lankan living from within, in ways that Tourists often don’t. New Year was one of the highlights of these times.
The two day public holiday begins on the 13th April, New Year’s Eve. Kanchana had invited all the neighbours in the surrounding area to come and begin celebrations with a children’s party complete with games and prizes.

Some of these were familiar to me, since they were very similar to game played in England when I was a child. For example, the game to draw an eye on an elephant whilst wearing a blindfold was very like “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”. I have included a few photos below, and a short clip of one of the games features on the YouTube clip on the right hand side.

The Mum's got in on the fun, too!

Children and parents alike seemed to have a great time, and I enjoyed myself immensely as spectator, photographer, and prize giver!

On New Year’s Day, it was a very early start. The astrologers had determined that the auspicious time for beginning to boil the coconut milk was at 5.05am, with the time for gifts and eating at 5.50am. The completion of the cooking the milk (which is used to make the milk rice - the traditional New Year food) is when it boils over from it’s clay pot (which is traditionally new). It was important that this happened in time to prepare the food for 5.50am - so when it reached boiling it was welcomed as a sign of prosperity for the New Year.

The boiling-over also features in the YouTube clip.

The breakfast of the delicious milk rice was served with a number of traditional New Year sweet items. It was a real honour to be part of this important and cherished tradition, and I was particularly touched to receive a gift of a lovely new shirt.

New Year is a time of worshipping the elders, and gift giving is accompanied by bowing to the ground before the elder gift recipient.

We then left for the 2 hour journey to Kuliyapitiya, the small town where both Kanchana’s and Thushara’s families live. On the way, the boys, Buhusuru and Nipuna set about teaching me how to say Happy New Year in Sinhala: “Suba Aluth Awuruddak Wewa!” It didn’t exactly roll off my tongue initially, but I eventually got the hang of it - sort of.

Once at Kuliyapitiya, it was a busy time of moving from home to home visiting relatives and giving worship to elders - with the offering of Betel leaves. Everywhere we went, there was also LOTS of delicious food on offer.

In many ways, the day was uniquely Sri Lankan - with an adherence to tradition that was very noticeable to my British eyes. Yet in other ways it was reassuringly familiar: gifts, continuous eating, and most importantly spending time with family - it could almost have been Christmas day.

Above is a picture of me with members of Thusara’s family.

Like so many elements of my time in Sri Lanka, I was aware of how the details may change, but fundamentally humans are the same the world over.

It was a great couple of days, yet tiring for all!

Mark Chappell

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Week in the Field

I have just returned from spending 7 days at the ECO-V field station on the edges of Udawalawa National Park. The experience was a fantastic chance to see first-hand the work done by the Pelican Project team, and to get a close look at the realities of working within a rural community.

Staying at the ECO-V field station in Udawalawa village, just outside the park, I was hosted admirably by Harsha, Mananperi, Bandara, and Ajiith. They were able to show me all aspects of the project as well as many of the local sights.

I was taken to tanks where observations on pelicans and other wildlife had been carried out by the team. These wetlands are a haven for all sorts of wildlife - particularly birds, but they are also imperative for the livelihoods of the local fisherman. This is something I was able to learn more about with a fascinating visit to a carp breeding facility run by the fisheries authority.

Fishermen rely on a healthy environment

One thing that was never far from view was the invasive plant species lantana (Lantana camera) - seemingly around every corner. It provides a massive problem for the growth of native plant species and also reduces the available grazing for elephants.

Lantana dominates the foliage, often growing to obstruct vehicles' access in the National Park

Therefore, encouraging the growth of native plants is an important step, and the Pelican Team have been busy growing and planting saplings that will hopefully grow into suitable trees for pelicans and other birds to roost and nest in. We visited one tank where saplings were starting to take hold on the banks, and it was nice to dream that in a few decades time young pelicans could be fledging from these trees.

Seedlings in fabric bags prior to planting by a tank

A small sapling looking strong on the shore of a tank

The successes of the tree-planting scheme will, like all initiatives in this area, be dependent on the community’s support - which the team has been so careful to mould.

I was able to meet a fishing family that had benefited from the provision of a sewing machine. This lady, with ECO-V’s guidance has been able to produce fabric bags as an environmentally friendly alternative to polythene. These bags are now becoming popular within the village, and are proving to be an important part of upholding the status of the project within the community.

Investigating the handiwork

The foundations for the future community support are being laid through the development of the Friends of Pelicans group. Whilst in Udawalawa I attended a Friends of Pelicans meeting, which was hosted by Harsha. I was able to see how keen these young people were to be involved - another positive sign that the area is in safe hands.

Harsha with some of the Friends of Pelicans

Throughout my stay, I was struck by the level of friendly respect in which the team is held throughout the community, and it was clear that the careful, often slow, steps that have been taken to ensure local support for more eco-friendly activities have been worth the effort.

Walks around the surrounding area gave me opportunities to see the landscape that these local people live in and rely on. The waterways, the paddy fields and the plantations are all delicately reliant on many factors remaining favourable. The community now recognise the importance of saving the pelicans, and a healthy pelican population should mean a healthy wetland system and a more robust resource for the local people.

Surviving on the land can be tough

Of course, being situated on the edge of a national park offered many wildlife viewing opportunities, both inside and outside of the protected area. One morning, we went on safari within the National Park, coming close to countless elephants, saw buffaloes, monkeys, monitors, crocodiles, hornbills, bee-eaters, storks, herons, and spot-billed pelicans. It was breathtaking and unforgettable.

One of many magnificent elephants seen on the safari

Add visits to temples and sites of other cultural interest in the area, a swim in the reservoir, the chance to get to know the project staff better and it all combines to make a very special week - and a valuable insight into the nature of the challenges being faced and met by the Pelican Project team.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Successful Step with New Udawalawa Community - by Mark Chappell

On Friday, I joined a number of the ECO-V team on the first field visit of my stay in Sri Lanka.

After a four hour mini-bus journey through some beautiful countryside, we arrived at a tank (a man-made reservoir created for irrigation) near to Embilipitiya, close to where ECO-V has been working with many communities.

This tank suffers from a familiar problem - the encroachment of invasive plant species. Specifically, non-native, fast-growing plants, such as water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes) have colonised the bank - meaning that the effective surface area has been greatly reduced - which has an adverse effect on the tank’s spot-billed pelicans. Complete eradication of these introduced aliens would be almost impossible and, despite causing certain problems, the new plants provide some excellent habitat for other native animals.
Water hyacinth and invasive reeds have created a new “bank”. In the distance, the trees indicate the historic bank.

The changes are not so good for the local fishermen who rely on the tank for their livelihoods - the reduced surface area creating greater competition between fishermen. ECO-V had identified that this group are crucial allies for the protection of this wetland, so a careful period of approaches and informal discussions over many months had led to this hour-long meeting between ECO-V, the local fishing association, and a representative of the local waterways authority.
Under the cover of a shelter situated between the tank and the road, we sat on chairs (that had been brought on the back of a motorbike) in a circle.

It was fascinating to watch the meeting unfold. Bearing in mind that during the meeting I had no idea what was being said (it was conducted entirely in Sinhala), I watched as the fishermen and their families were encouraged to passionately share their experiences of the gradual deterioration of their fishing fortunes.

They were then told how, with ECO-V’s help, they can expand their utilisation of the tank. Through ECO-V’s contacts, they can learn to sustainably harvest some of the bank-side plants and develop ecotourism tours - making the most of the fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities. This diversification of income would make them less reliant on access to the fish.

I could tell that the meeting had been a success (even before the subsequent English summary) by the smiling faces of all involved. Expressions of thanks were given: despite knowing that things were wrong with the tank, the fishermen had previously felt powerless to act.

By developing a good relationship with the fishing community, any initiatives to control the invasive plants in the future hopefully will be supported. And through eco-tourism, the fortunes of these stakeholders will be dependent on the maintenance of high biodiversity around the tank, so this habitat should have a greater prospect of being maintained.

After the meeting, we were given a first-hand glimpse of this variety of wildlife as we were taken around the tank in fishing boats. We got close to a great variety of water birds, and you can see photos of many of these by clicking on the link to the Flickr photo stream on the right-hand side.
Pleased that the day had seen a successful step in the conservation of this wetland, we made the long trip back to Colombo - happy and exhausted.