Eroding Coastlines And The Cost To Fishermen
By Maryam Azwer
Fishermen in coastal areas such as Kalpitiya have had to bear the brunt of coastal erosion, which environmentalists claim is an increasingly serious issue.
According to Convener, National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO), Herman Kumara, many fishermen along the West coast have lost their anchoring points, and others have even had to move their traditional points of fishing operations.
He said that one fishing operation in particular has been worst affected – beach seine fishing, also known as ‘ma dal’, a traditional fishing operation.
“Beach seine operators in the Mohothuwarama island (in Kalpitiya) have had to move,” said Kumara, explaining that these fishermen have big nets and they operate only along the coast. “They don’t go to the deep sea. They operate within a 300 – 400 metre limit from the coast, and drag the net towards the sea, making a curve, and in between they catch a lot of fish in their nets,” he said.
He said that fishermen have also put up huts and temporary shelters, which they have lost, or will lose, as the coastline is eroded. “There are so many effects on their livelihood, their settlement and their environment. The islands are also diminishing. This is very serious,” Kumara said.
Vimukthi Weeratunga, Operations Manager at the Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) also agreed that the issue of the sea eating into our beaches is one of very serious concerns, particularly along the West coast.
“The Marawila coastal belt, for instance, is under serious threat. They have been dumping massive stones at a huge cost to stabilize the coast,” he said. “It is somewhat working, but it is a constant battle to stabilize the coast, because there isn’t enough sand from the rivers to replenish the beach build up. That’s the simple science,” he added.
He explained that the present situation boils down to a matter of sea dynamics: “Sea dynamics are different from one place to another. It depends on the slope, the beach vegetation, the wind, and such things. Along the Western coast, the sea dynamic is basically towards the North. When there is not enough sand due to the sea dynamic, the sea takes up the existing sand – whatever is on the beach. The Western coast is a very dynamic coast, and is very sensitive to erosion,” he said, adding that the issue of sand mining in rivers was contributing to coastal erosion.
The Sand Mining Factor
According to Weeratunga, the sea is “eroding in this fashion because of an unsustainable extraction of sand.” He pointed out that although obtaining sand was very necessary for development purposes, sand mining could change the entire course of a river, which would in turn have an impact on the formation of beaches – in the sense that sand deposits to the beach would reduce drastically. Due to this, he said, sand surveys should be carried out on all rivers, and there should be a systematic implementation of sand mining laws.
Environmentalist and lawyer, Jagath Gunawardena, also said that coastal erosion and sand mining are interlinked. Sand mining in rivers, he explained, results in “less sand being deposited in the shoreline, so the shoreline is not formed properly.”
Other factors contributing to coastal erosion, Gunawardena explained, were destruction of coral, and illegal constructions along the coastline, that could change the wave patterns.
Coral mining has been a problem since the 1980s, he said, and illegal activities continue because monitoring not effective enough.
Meanwhile, Chairman, Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB), Dr N. P. Wijayananda, said that the GSMB has issued approximately 6,000 sand mining licences.
However, he also said that it was difficult to determine if sand mining really was a prominent culprit where coastal erosion is concerned. “Sea erosion has been going on for decades,” he said, even at a time when sand mining was not done on a large scale as it is being done today.
Dr Wijayananda went on to say that there have been several restrictions placed on sand mining in rivers nevertheless. “Closer to the river mounds, we don’t issue licenses. In Deduru oya, we have totally stopped mining. In Maha oya, there are a lot of restrictions and in Nilwala Ganga, we have totally banned mining. In the Kelani ganga, you don’t see sand mining like in those days, only in the upper regions,” he said.
On the issue of illegal sand mining taking place in several parts of the island, despite these regulations, the GSMB Chairman said that they were working with the STF and environment authorities to tackle this problem. If found guilty of illegal sand mining, he said, people will be fined a minimum of Rs. 50,000.
Director General, Coast Conservation Department, Anil Premarathne, meanwhile said that no study had been conducted on the co-relation of sand mining to coastal erosion, but there was some evidence to suggest that the two are inter-linked.
On the problem of illegal sand mining, Premarathne said that this took place usually at night, and culprits were therefore hard to catch. “We are getting the support from the police, but it is very difficult to control this problem without the support from communities,” he said. He explained that the public remained silent on this matter, while they should ideally inform the authorities if they came across incidents of illegal sand mining.
“Sand mining has more than doubled since the 1990s, but at the same time, coastal sand mining has decreased due to regulations,” said Premarathne.