Sri Lanka -- Corals at Risk: The Need for Protection

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Corals At Risk
The Need For Protection

By Priya Monagurusamy and Asha Dhanasiri
Assisted by R. Ariyaratne


Sri Lanka

The island of Sri Lanka is situated between the latitudes of 5º 54` and 9º 52 N longitudes 79º 39` and 81º 53 E, at the southern point of Indian subcontinent. Sri Lanka`s surface includes nearly 65,525 Sq. K.M of landmass. The island is situated within the Tropical zone-hot wet and humid for most parts of the year. It is characterized and greatly influenced by periods of regular monsoonal rain.

The coastline, which is about 1585 km in length, supports highly productive marine ecosystems such as fringing coral reefs and shallow beds of coastal and estuarine seagrasses.

Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are among the most biologically valuable ecosystems in the globe. Coral reefs rank among the most biologically productive and diverse of all-natural ecosystems. A single reef can be home to 3,000 different species, while one third of the world`s fish species depend on them. They calm the energy of the waves, providing vital protection to shores. (Our Planet Vol. 10 No. 03 1999)

Coral reefs are biological wonders, among the largest and oldest living communities of plants and animals on earth, having evolved between 200 and 450 million years ago. Today, most established coral reefs are between 5,000 and 10,000 years old; many of them forming thin veneers over older, much thicker reef structures. Most of the reef colony is actually dead. Only the upper layer is covered by thin changeable `skin` of living coral. The tiny, transparent polyps of stony corals are the master builders of the sea, erecting their architectural masterpieces upon their remains of their predecessors. Polyps secrete calcium carbonate

Corals themselves are tiny animals which belong to the group cnidaria. Other cnidarians include hydras, jellyfish, and sea anemones. Corals are sessile animals, meaning they are not mobile but stay fixed in one place. They feed by reaching out with tentacles to catch prey such as small fish and planktonic animals. Corals live in colonies consisting of many individuals, each of which is called polyp. They secrete a hard calcium carbonate skeleton, which serves as a uniform base or substrate for the colony. The skeleton also provides protection, as the polyps can contract into the structure if predators approach. These hard skeletal structures build up coral reefs over time. The calcium carbonate is secreted at the base of the polyps, so the living coral colony occurs at the surface of the skeletal structure, completely covering it. Calcium carbonate is continuously deposited by the living colony, adding to the size of the structure. Growth of these structures varies greatly, depending on the species of coral and environmental conditions-- ranging from 0.3 to 10 centimeters per year. Different species of coral build structures of various sizes and shapes ("brain corals," "fan corals," etc.), creating amazing diversity and complexity in the coral reef ecosystem. Various coral species tend to be segregated into characteristic zones on a reef separated out by competition with other species and by environmental conditions.

Virtually all reef-dwelling corals have a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with algae called zooxanthellae. The plant-like algae live inside the coral polyps and perform photosynthesis, producing food, which is hared with the coral. In exchange the coral provides the algae with protection and access to light, which is necessary for photosynthesis. The zooxanthellae also lend their color to their coral symbionts.

Because the zooxanthellae depend on light for photosynthesis, reef-building corals are found in shallow, clear water where light can penetrate down to the coral polyps. Reef building coral communities also requires tropical or sub-tropical temperatures, and exists globally in a band 30 degrees north to 30 degrees south of the equator. Reefs are generally classified in three types. Fringing reefs, the most common type, project seaward directly from the shores of islands or continents. Barrier reefs are platforms separated from the adjacent land by a bay or lagoon. The longest barrier reefs occur off the coasts of Australia and Belize. Atolls rest on the tops of submerged volcanoes. They are usually circular or oval with a central lagoon. Parts of the atoll may emerge as islands. Over 300 atolls are found in the south Pacific.

Coral reefs provide habitats for a large variety of organisms. These organisms rely on corals as a source of food and shelter. Besides the corals themselves and their symbiotic algae, other creatures that call coral reefs home include various sponges; molluscs such as sea slugs, nudibranchs, oysters, and clams; crustaceans like crabs and shrimp; many kinds of sea worms; echinoderms like star fish and sea urchins; other cnidarians such as jellyfish and sea anemones; various types of fungi; sea turtles; and many species of fish.

Globally, more than 400 marine parks, sanctuaries, and reserves (marine protected areas) contain coral reefs. Most of these sites are very small - more than 150 are less than one square kilometer in size.

Coral reefs of Sri Lanka

For centuries coral reefs have been a valuable resource for the people of Sri Lanka, in particular for the coastal communities. Coral reefs are rich in biodiversity and are important as habitats for flora and fauna, for containing coastal erosion, and for sustaining the coastal fishery. There are three types of coral reefs in Sri Lanka i.e. Fringing (Hikkaduwa); Apron (found on rocky substrates near shore); and barrier (Vakalai and Silavathurai). Sri Lanka has well-developed reefs, but the majority are of sandstone and rock, and boulder reeks are common along the southern and eastern coasts. In contrast, the extent of true coral reefs is limited: only about two per cent of the coastline has fringing coral reefs (mostly along the southwestern, southern and eastern coasts) but off-shore patch reefs are more extensive. There are also some well-developed offshore coral reefs, especially in the Gulf of Mannar and west of the Kalpitiya Peninsula. Coral reefs around the Jaffna Peninsula are less well developed, and generally occur around the coastal islands. A total of 68 indigenous coral genera and 183 species have been recorded so far. Several marine areas have been identified as deserving protection, but currently there are only two areas that have been declared as marine sanctuaries. The Hikkaduwa marine sanctuary is located in the southern province is one of the most densely developed tourism sites in Sri Lanka and encompasses the first national marine sanctuary established in 1979.It is 45 ha in extend, with about 25 ha of corals within and abutting the sanctuary. This area is endowed with a near-shore coral reef with about 60 coral species and 168 fish species. The Bar Reef, located west of the Kalpitiya Peninsula near Puttalam lagoon, was declared a marine sanctuary in 1992. The total area of the sanctuary is 306.7 km2. The core Zone with an area of 70 km2, supports true coral reefs. Around 300 species of reef associated fish have been recorded in the Bar Reef, and some (e.g Chaetodon) are restricted to this site.

Protected corals in Sri Lanka

Family - Fungiidae Mushroom Coral
Cycioseri Spp
Fungia Spp
Herpolitha limax
Polyphyllila talpnia
Sandalolitha robusta
Zoopilus echinatus
Diaseris distorta
Diaseris fragilis

Family -Faviidae
Favia Spp
Favites Spp
Montastrea Spp
Cyphastrea chaleidieum
Cyphastrea serilia
Oulophyllia orispa
Platygyra Spp
Leptoria phrygia
Dipioastrea heliopora Brain Coral
Echinipora lamellora
Clesiastrea versipora
Goniastrea Spp

Hydnopora Spp
Merulina Spp

Symhyllia Spp
Labophyllia Spp Brain Coral
Lobophyllia hemphrichil

Family -Pectinudae
Echinophyllia Spp
Pectinia Spp
Mycedium elephantosus
Acanthastrea Spp

Euphyllia Spp
Plerogyra sinuosa Bubble Corals
Physogyra Spp
Catalaphyllia jardinci - Combanemone

Tubastrea Spp Coral Polypar
Dendrophyllia micrantha
Dendrophyllia peltara
Turbinaria Spp
Hetoropsammia cochlea
Balanophyllia Spp

Porites Spp
Goniopora stokeri - Ball Coral
Goniopora fruticosa
Goniopora astreata

Oder -Milliporina
Millepora Spp. Fire Coral

Distichopora violacea
Stylaster Spp

Oder - Antipatharia

Black Corals

Oder - Gorgonacea
Gorgonians(Sea fans,Sea whiper)
Soft Corals

Oder - Alcyonacea
Family- Aliyoniidae
Sarcophyton Spp

Den dronephthya Spp

Family- Xeriidae
Xe nia Spp.


Coral Mining

Reefs are being sacrificed for practical reasons. Coral form a major component of lime, an important material in Sri Lanka`s construction industry. From gathering coral rubble on the seashores, people have been fuelled by increasing demand to break, and now to mine the coral. Coral mining is a global problem, and can be a major problem here for an island country smaller than most. Mining can not only harm the reef itself, but the very life forms it supports, and which in turn support it.

Coral is the principle source of lime for Sri Lanka’s construction industry, supplying approximately 90 percent of the lime used. Coral is also used as an inexpensive source of soil ameliorate which reduces acidity in agricultural lands. In certain parts of the southwestern coastal sector, coral has been mined for almost four hundred years. Traditionally, only relic reefs behind beaches were mined. The growth of the construction industry since the late 1960’s has stimulated the coral mining industry and led to the destruction of living reefs.

In 1984, an excess of 18,000 tons of coral was extracted in the coastal reach between Ambalangoda and Dickwella. By 1993, sea coral removed from the coastal zone declined to an estimated 4,020 tons per annum, a 48 percent decrease from 1984. As a result from the enforcement of regulations under the Coast Conservation amendment Act of 1984. In 1994 a total of 1473 of persons were directly engaged in mining, collecting and transporting of sea corals while another 800 persons were engaged in inland coral mining activities.

There are types many types of coral extraction in Sri Lanka including reef breaking, coral rubble from the beach, and back beach mining. Reefs are also blasted to provide navigation access to fishing boats. Both coral collection from the beach


Coral is not a rock- as many fishermen mindlessly blowing them up with dynamite to catch their prey often believe- but a living matter. The coral it self is an invertebrate creature. When it dies its skeleton forms the structure on which new corals grow. It depends on algae, which lives inside it and, in a close symbiotic relationship, provides most of its food and energy.

A fishery is the major activity affecting marine biodiversity in the coastal waters of Sri Lanka. Fish supply is important in terms of food and income and it has continued to increase in recent years. The fisheries sector has traditionally sought to increase productivity without paying adequate attention to conservation and sustainable use of aquatic resources. Poverty of many coastal dwellers in Sri Lanka aggravates fishing in coral reefs.

Muro-ami netting pounding reefs with weighed bags to scare fish out of crevices, trawling also directly damages the corals. These methods are generally non-selective and large numbers of other species, along with undersized target species, sweep up in nets or killed by poisons or explosives in the process.

Fishers sweep reef of their valuable species and then move on, eliminating entire populations within the areas, they leave behind. Cyanide and other poisonous chemicals are used to catch reef fish. The process of cyanide fishing itself indisputably wreaks havoc on coral reefs. The divers crush cyanide tablets into plastic squirt bottles of seawater and puff the solution at fish on coral heads. The fish often flee into crevices, obliging the divers to pry and hammer the reefs apart to collect their stunned prey.

The solution for this problem will be to use alternatives to cyanide such as - fine mesh barriers nets draped over a reef section to catch aquarium-sized fish and hook and line techniques to catch larger fish.
Using the dynamite and other explosives is also destructive to coral reefs. These methods too do lot of harm to the coral reefs of Sri Lanka. Bottom-set nets used to catch reef fish destroy the corals.

In a developing country like Sri Lanka, many landless people often end up on the water’s edge, trying to eke out a livelihood from a common resource to which they have free access.

Marine Ornamental Fishing

The marine ornamental fishing industry in Sri Lanka has expanded rapidly over the last 20 years or so. There are between 200-300 marine species of fish and invertebrates that are being exported in the aquarium trade. At present the export trade in ornamental reef fish ranks in next to that of prawns and lobsters in terms of value, and the current level of ornamental fish collection for sale and export is widely considered to be unsustainable. There is no monitoring or management of the trade at present, and reports of over exploitation and habitat destruction are common. Due to the use of moxy-nets for collection of reef fish for the aquarium trade, the coral reefs are damaged.


As a small, developing island country, Sri Lanka owes quite a lot to its coral reefs. Their beauty brings in a lot of income from tourists who visit the island, and who make the coral reefs a routine stops. At the same time, the reefs have a practical value; as buffers against harsh waves, they prevent coastal erosion. At least they did. Now, the very beauty of our coral reefs may be their undoing.

Hikkaduwa is a prime example of what developing tourism can do to a hitherto untouched island treasure. The reefs` aesthetic charms draw tourists by the dozens. For people around the area, this means business opportunities in the forms of hotels, businesses, and one of the biggest threats to the reef, glass-bottomed boats. Now Hikkaduwa`s reefs are being gradually worn down.

Tourism has been a key feature of the economy of Sri Lanka from early 1970’s onward. Coastal areas and areas with fringing reefs have become favored sites fro tourism development. Hikkaduwa on the south west coast is one of the most popular resort areas which had 300 000 guest nights in 1992. The Hikkaduwa Marine sanctuary was declared in1970, to protect the coral reefs in the near shore area. The unplanned tourism development and various human activities have led to degradation of the coral reefs.
Snorkling, scuba diving and viewing corals through glass bottom boats are popular activities among the tourists.

Snorkeling on coral reefs causes damage to corals with branching species being the most susceptible. Snorkelers and divers often stand on reefs walk over corals in the shallows. Reef working at low tide is very popular among tourists. This causes lot of damage to corals in areas with a highly developed cover of fragile reefs. Sometimes reef walkers move or over turn boulders to view animals beneath them. This can cause death of the species if these boulders are not replaced.

Diving in marine sanctuaries may result in lot of damage to corals. Although these can be unintentional and minor at frequently dived sites this can be significant and can lead to local loss of fragile species.

Glass bottomed boats and small boats can be another threat to the corals. Inexperienced boat handlers grounding on reefs can cause damage to shallow areas . In order to give a better view of corals to the visitors the operators often stop their boats over shallow coral patches and stand on the reef to keep the boats steady as well as dropping anchor on live coral. This careless anchoring has smashed many reefs in Hikkaduwa area. It breaks and damage corals.

Collecting of corals and shells by tourists as souvenirs may cause long term alteration to its communities. This activity was very common in the past years. Recently there are no reports on the collection of the ornamental species but colorful shells such as cowries and cones have become very rare.

The Hikkaduwa Marine Sanctuary one of the places which attracts tourists most ,was declared a sanctuary in 1979.with the aim to protect the coral reefs in the near shore area. But unfortunately lack of proper management plan and varieties of human activities have led to the degradation of the coral reef within this area. This area has been the focus of the Special Area Management Program (SAM) since 1992.Through the SAM process large number of local people have been educated on the value of the coral refs and the need to safe guard this valuable resource. Making awareness among the local governmental officials, hotel owners, managers, glass-bottom boat owner s and users, tour guides and others. Although the Department of Wild life conservation has assigned guards to protect the reef from harmful actions, they are not success in preventing the major causes of reef damage such as discharging of effluents from hotels, boat anchoring etc.


The pollution is the biggest danger to the coral reefs .The fresh water canals that empty in to the reef area are polluted by coconut –husk retting and effluents from domestic sources and unregistered tourist establishments. In addition, various hotels located within the coastal areas continue to discharge effluents in to the sea. A water quality study carried out by the National Aquatic resources Agency in 1993- 1994 showed that some of the effluents released by the hotels are toxic to marine life.

In the country mushrooming industries is becoming more threat to the reefs. Most of them do not have facilities for separation of solids and waste materials from effluents, which are released, to waterways and coastal areas with resulting high biological demand. It is recognized that the most damaging industries are the coconut and rubber based industries ,food processing plants, paper mills and distilleries.

Hotels exude waste; so do businesses. The sea, so near at hand, becomes a natural dumping ground. The polluted substances erode the reefs, and spoil their beauty to such an extent that their original brilliance may be lost forever.



The runoff from the mainland of nutrients and suspended sediments has increased more than before. Sewage, Nutrients and fertilizer may cause eutrophication and consequent death of reef organisms. Nutrients allow algae to out-compete corals and increase the frequency and severity of outbreaks of crown of thrones star fish. The starfish when mature eat living coral.

Suspended sediments inhibit the sun’s energy from being used for reef building. Reduction of the light penetration can alter vertical distribution of plants and animals on reefs. Bottom trawling removes all living things from the seabed and grossly changes the habitat, with ecological consequences that are not yet really known.

Polluted effluents are often the most common sources of threat on coastal and marine ecosystems. Domestic sewage, Agricultural wastes & industrial wastes and oil spills cause dramatic threat to coastal ecosystems.

Domestic sewage and municipal sewage may result in eutrophication by overloading the marine environment with nutrients and may introduce pathogens and toxic matters. This pollution impact disturbs the delicate balance maintained among a large number of different species, often causes dramatic increase in populations of nuisance species like algae at the expense of prized species like lobsters. But some researches have found out that the nutrients can be beneficial to coral ecosystems in small amount but destructive in larger amounts.

Industrial discharges contain number of toxic substances including heavy metals, radioactive elements, acids and uncountable other toxic industrial chemicals. The marine environment get pollute as a result of mining and dredging operations, smelting processes, off shore oil drilling, desalination plant effluents, thermal power plants, effluent and sewage discharge. In Sri Lanka 20,000 industrial units are concentrated around Colombo which mostly don’t have facilities for separation of solids and waste materials from effluents which are released to water ways and coastal areas. This results high biological oxygen demand. The food processing plants, paper mills, distilleries, coconut and rubber based industries have been recognized as the most damaging industries in the country.

Agricultural wastes are more pervasive from non-point sources. In the country some farming districts use more than 120 kg ha –1 of fertilizer which is higher rates than other Asian countries. With the growing of rice farming and tea industry, pesticide use has also risen. The annual consumption of pesticides in the country is 2,800 tones. It is estimated that about 25% of all pesticides end up in the sea.

A wide spread diarrhoeal disease and viral hepatitis occasionally breakout in various parts of the country as a result of discharge of untreated urban sewage. Very high faecal coliform counts were found in the kelani river , which is also contaminated with chemical effluents before construction of an ocean outfall.

Catastrophic spills of oil or release of other hazardous materials is one of the most dramatic threats to coral ecosystem. The large volumes of petroleum and chemical products transported through the coastal zone by the ships, barges, pipelines, and railroads present considerable potential for accidental bulk spills of oil or chemicals. Ships skirting the southern coast of Sri Lanka to carry oil to East Asia give a continuing hazard to the coastal waters and beaches.

Recently the scenario of oil pollution in the country has been quite frequent. Some of these events occurred on the coastal waters of Pulmudai, Colombo, Unawatuna and Kirinda. This has undoubtedly caused severe damage to the ecosystem.

Not only from tanker ships but also from major Harbour s and fishing boats create a chronic problem. Wastewater and bilge water are dumped overboard. As a result of these, coral reef lagoon areas of Hikkaduwa and Weligama & Negombo lagoon have become highly polluted.

Glass bottomed boats cause three problems: the indiscriminate discharge of fuel effluents; the dropping of anchors and the physical buffeting against the coral; the explorations of tourists upon the reef that subsequently break up the coral

Natural Disasters

The global warming can increase chances of inundation through rising sea level and also can create probability of storm surges. This will lead to loss of important buffer mangrove forests, reduction of both agricultural and aquaculture productivity together with salt water intrusion in to aquifers and irrigation water with concomitant effects on vegetation. Burning fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, which release CO2 as well as Ozone Methane, could make the earth warmer Sea level appears to be increasing about 2mm per year. Thermal expansion alone could multify that rate five folds result in a one meter rises over the next century. This could result in commonalty submerge in small islands.

El Nino

In 1998 the ocean current known as El Nino, combined with global warming, brought unprecedented high sea temperatures washing through the world`s oceans. As a result more than three quarters of the shallow coral reefs in the Indian Ocean and parts of the
pacific had died.

Irregular cycles of rising ocean temperatures are known as El Nino. Apart from warming up the ocean water causes a change in atmospheric pressure. A lower pressure is experienced in the Indian Ocean when the pressure rises in the pacific ocean.1997 El Nino pattern returned to North America. Scientists say the events become more strongly irregular because of global warming. These warmer sea surfaces can cause damage to coral reefs habitats.

Sri Lanka has taken many measures so far to protect the coast. However, for a good coastal management practice, there is no generalized prescriptive recipe. Each case, each site brings with its own unique set of issues for consideration. Nevertheless, there is general framework within coastal resources can be sustainably used through appropriate policy making, management and technological intervention. With number of legislation, policies and agencies the country is on its way to protect the coast.


Sri Lanka does not lack laws to protect reefs. Ranging from the umbrella National Environment Act to more specific ones like the Coastal Conservation Act and the Marine Pollution Prevention Act, Sri Lanka`s legislation appears on the surface to answer all the problems. Various laws cover all physical breakage of the coral reef, pollution of the coral reefs, involvement in its trade and export.

Why then does the coral reefs of this country continue to disappear? The very abundance of laws can defeat the purpose that they themselves set out to do. Since coral forms a subject of several laws, it also becomes the subject of all the various authorities formed under the various laws. This means overlapping of functions and opens the door to the practice of "passing the buck".

Ignorance, lack of enforcement, the need for a steady income now overcoming the need to keep our shores from physically disintegrating in the future and the inability to see that man cannot live on bread alone.

Current laws relating to Coral Reefs

To find whether the present laws need to be amended, or even whether new ones should be introduced, we have to know what is already existing. Does the problem lie with the substance of the laws, the enforcement of them or both?

Currently, specific laws relating to corals include the Fauna and Flora Protection Act, the Coastal Conservation Act, the Marine Pollution Prevention Act and the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act. The provisions of the Customs Ordinance relating to export of prohibited goods apply by extension. In relation to pollution in general, particularly water pollution, the National Environment Act may be cited as well.

Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (as amended by Act 49/1993)

After the 1993 amendments, the range of organisms protected by the Ordinance has considerably widened. Provisions now refer to vertebrates and invertebrates, instead of the previous birds and reptiles.

Protected invertebrates are listed in Schedule IVA and includes corals such as types of mushroom corals, brain corals, bubble corals, coral polyps, ball coral, fire coral and black corals.

Sec. 31B - Any person who in any area outside a National Reserve or Sanctuary
a) knowingly kills, wounds, injures, takes or collects any invertebrate included for the time being in Schedule IVA or
b) takes or destroys the eggs, spawn, larva or nest of such invertebrate or
c) uses any boat, lime, snare, net, spear, trap, gun, rod, line or hook with any accessories or bait, or explosives of any description or any other instrument used for the purpose of killing, wounding, injuring, taking or collecting any such invertebrate or
d) has in his possession, or under his control, any such invertebrate killed, taken or any part of such invertebrate egg, spawn or larva; or
e) exposes or offers for sale, or transport any such invertebrate or part of an invertebrate; or
f) purchases such invertebrate for purpose of drying, curing or for other purpose shall be guilty of an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not less than ten thousand rupees and not more than twenty thousand rupees or to imprisonment of wither description for a term not less than two years and not exceeding five years or to both fine an imprisonment"

Sec. 40 prohibits the export of inter alia coral, except under the authority of a permit issued in the prescribed form.

Sec. 40(2) stipulates that "Such form shall not be issued except for the promotion of scientific knowledge including supplies to foreign museums, foreign zoological gardens in exchange for supplies to local museums or local zoological gardens.

Sec. 40(3) states that this section shall have effect as if it forms part of the Customs Ordinance


1. The ordinance deals solely with acts done knowingly i.e. for the purpose of". It does not deal with negligent destruction, such as that caused by boats, either by their prows or by their anchors, both of which have been identified as two of the causes for the reefs` physical destruction.

2. Provisions for enforcement would further strengthen Sec. 40. In relegating enforcement provision to the Customs Ordinance, the export of coral becomes punishable only by payment of a fine. Most of the other offences in the Ordinance carry the penalty of fine and/or imprisonment. If export of coral is a lucrative business, fines will not be an effective deterrent; even if the actual act of export has been stopped, the damage would already have been done.

Laws should require some kind of proof that a person applying for a permit is exporting for the reasons outlined in Sec.40 (2). Promotion of scientific knowledge could mean anything, and anyone with enough experience and knowledge could set up a front organization. Even bona fide applicants should be limited to how much they can remove.

3. Sec.40 specifically prohibits coral, but in the preceding sections dealing with invertebrate, there is no specific mention of coral. Coral is listed in Schedule IV but could anyone argue that coral has been excluded from Sec.31B? If corals are listed in the Schedule IV which lists invertebrates and the Schedule is comprehensive enough, is it necessary to list coral separately in one section only. It almost seems to be an afterthought.

Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act No. 2 of 1996

The Act uses the phrase - "aquatic resources" which is defined in Sec. 66 as "living aquatic organisms and includes and seaweed, phytoplankton or other aquatic flora and non-living substances found in an aquatic medium"
Part IV deals with the protection of fish and other aquatic resources, Part V deals with conservation while Part VIII grants powers to authorized officers to carry out the protective provisions in the preceding parts.

Sec. 27(1) No person shall a) use or attempt to use any poisonous, explosive or stupefying substance or other noxious or harmful material or substance in Sri Lanka Waters for the purpose of poisoning, killing, stunning or disabling any fish or other
aquatic resources

The section further prohibits possessing such substances for the above purpose, as well as prohibiting landing, selling, buying, receiving, possessing or transporting any such aquatic resources if the person has reasonable cause to believe that they were taken using the methods outlined in Sec.27 (1).

Penalty for Sec.27
Sec.40 (3)- imprisonment of either description for a term not less than six months and not exceeding two years and to a fine not less than five thousand rupees, or on a second or subsequent conviction to imprisonment or wither description for a term no less than one year and not exceeding five years and to a fine not less than ten thousand rupees.

Sec. 29 - "No person shall catch, land, transport, sell, buy, receive or have in his possession, such species of prohibited fish, or other aquatic resources as may be described."

Sec.36 - The Minister may...declare any area of Sri Lanka Waters or any land adjacent thereto or both such waters and land to be a fisheries reserve, where he considers special measures are necessary
a - to afford special protection to the aquatic resources in danger of extinction in such waters or land and to protect and preserve the natural breeding grounds and habitat of fish, coral growth and aquatic ecosystems

Sec. 37 - prohibits certain activities without a permit from the director and Sec. 37(b) deals specifically with coral, i.e. That "No person shall, except upon a permit obtained from the Director or any person authorized by the Director in that behalf in the prescribed form and on payment of the prescribed fee mine, collect or otherwise gather or process coral, or any other aquatic resources, or extract sand or gravel, discharge or deposit waste or any other polluting matter in any other way disturb, interfere with or destroy, fish or other aquatic resources or their natural breeding grounds or habitat in such reserve"


1. The Minister`s powers to declare an area a fisheries reserve is discretionary, rather than compulsory. The criteria that he may look at in making his determination are vague. Its broadness can, at the same time is advantageous and disadvantageous, particularly the term "in danger of extinction". An ecosystem may be at the point of no return in its existence and still be in danger of extinction. Furthermore, the Minister in charge of this area is too far away from the ground situation; if this power were instead to be given to an authority like the CCD who are continually monitoring the situation, it may be more effective. The power to declare such areas reserves is more effective than most provisions because it has a preventative, rather than punitive quality.

2. Sec. 37, though broad, does not have any provisions to deal with any person who contravenes the Act. Unlike the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance, which limits any permit to scientific research, the section only mentions a permit and no qualifying restrictions or guidelines on issuing it.

3. The term "aquatic resources" is wide enough to arguably contain corals within its perimeter. The destruction or collection of aquatic resources is dealt with in several provisions (Sec.27-30) and penalties for their contravention is dealt with in Part IX. Can it be argued that the specific nature of Sec.37 excludes corals from this term?

Part VIII deals with the powers of officers not below the rank of Fisheries Inspector who, under Sec. 46(1) are authorized by the Director to implement the provisions. Their powers include the power to search fishing boats, vehicles, storage areas, etc. and seize prohibited fish and aquatic resources, any equipment believed to have been used in connection with any offence under the Act, any poisonous, explosive or stupefying substances believed to have been used in contravention of the Act

Coast Conservation Act (as amended by No.64/1988)

Sec.31A(1) No person shall within the Coastal Zone
a) engage in the mining, collecting, possessing, processing, storing, burning and transporting in any form whatsoever, of coral;
b) own possess, occupy, rent, lease, hold or operate kilns for the burning and processing of coral;
c) use or possess any equipment, machinery, article, substance for the purpose of breaking up coral; and
d) use any vehicle, craft, or boat in or in connection with, the breaking up or transporting or any coral.

In the following subsections, police officers can seize such equipment and any substances and articles found there, as well confiscate any coral found stored or stacked within the Coastal Zone.

Sec. 29 which dealt with punishment for offenses was amended to include contravention of the above section (Sec.29 (e); and such person on conviction shall be liable to a fine of not less than one thousand five hundred rupees and not exceeding twenty-five thousand rupees or to imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment.

Under Sec. 31, the Director can require unauthorized structures to be taken down; failure to do so by the owner or occupier means the Director shall cause such structure to be taken down. In relation to corals, this would specifically apply to lime kilns, which had to be demolished within 30 days of the new Sec. 31C coming into effect.


1. Limekiln structures are one of the reasons for the mass mining of corals in Sri Lanka. The Director`s power to demolish such structures is limited to the Coastal Zone; since only the CCA specifically mentions such kilns, no other person is so authorized under any act. Can the Director`s authorization vis-à-vis protection of corals be extended to lime kilns or any other activity naturally extending from the removal of coral, whether or nor it is within the CCZ or not?

NB: Coast Conservation (Amendment) Act No.64 of 1988 removed "removal of coral" from the definition of "development activity" from Sec.42

2. The provisions, though broad prohibiting the ways of destroying coral, again only refers to breaking up, etc. of coral for doing so.

Marine Pollution Prevention Act

The Marine Pollution Prevention Act is relevant in this discussion, because though it does not deal specifically with corals, it deals with one of the causes for reef destruction, water pollution.

The Act was enacted in 1982 to limit the discharge of effluents into the ocean.

General Suggestions

Overall, Sri Lanka probably doesn`t lack so much for laws as for enforcement provisions. The laws exist; they are broad enough to encompass every possible human threat to the coral reefs, yet the destruction continues.

One problem may be that, as with a lot of the areas in environment, the protection of coral reefs can be brought under a lot of laws. The National Environment Act has provisions and regulations on water pollution; the Marine Pollution Prevention Act deals with pollution of the sea specifically; the Coast Conservation Act (CCA) deals specifically with the breaking up, possession, etc. of coral, and also covers lime kilns; the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act deals with "aquatic resources" and if coral is included in that, its provisions are even wider than the CCA. All statutes create some body or person to carry out their provisions. Unfortunately, this probably creates an overlap and confusion as to who has power to do what.

It may be better to bring everything relating to the coral reefs under one body. The CCD would possibly be a good choice, since, unlike the other bodies, its physical area of control is smaller and it can concentrate its resources better. However, this same point could be a drawback, since its control is only limited to the CCZ. Problems like inland kilns, possession of coral outside the zone, any activity outside the Zone would leave the CCD powerless. Possibly, when it comes to prohibited acts that begin in the Coastal Zone, the CCD`s powers can be extended to any consequent acts, even if it is out of the coastal zone.

Enforcement officers should also be made aware of the importance of protection of coral reefs. In the report of the Task Force to draft a new NEA, the TF suggested giving enforcement officers commissions according to the number of prosecutions they successfully handle. This may seem a rather desperate measure, but if it succeeds in better vigilance and enforcement, then maybe it should be looked into.

Sometimes, the best way to solve an issue like this is to address its origins. In "Coral mining in Sri Lanka", the author highlighted many extraneous steps the CCD took to reduce mining. They realized that for most people, mining coral was a means of getting an income and attempted to find other means of livelihood for those people. It also conducted education and training programs for the police and the residents around coral reefs.

In relation to pollution from hotels, businesses and glass-bottomed boats, the cause would be tourism. Finding an alternative to that would not be possible. The next best thing is to regulate what tourism generates; stricter regulations on the number of boats and the fuel they use, the areas, which they would be able to traverse, and more environmentally-friendly specifications of the boasts themselves. Tourists must also be regulated; there is a tendency in Sri Lanka to treat tourists like gods and not realize that they are just as capable of causing environmental havoc as we are. Since one of the causes of reef, break-up is the tourists walking on the reefs, this should be prohibited and enforced.

Institutional Measures

The Coast Conservation Department

The focus of coast environmental conservation in Sri Lanka has been on the protection of the coastline and activities that have an impact on coastal stability. First efforts at systematic coastal resource management in the country commenced in the early 1980 s with the setting up of the Coast conservation Department (CCD).

The CCD was recognized as the main agency for coastal issues by the coast conservation Act of 1981. It was given mandate to survey and inventory the coastal resources, to issue permits for developmental activities in the coastal zone and to prepare management plans. The dept. is responsible for the conservation of natural coastal habitats and areas of cultural and recreational value. It is expected to coordinate all sectorial activities in the coastal zone including the activities of other departments .CCD has been succeeded so far in its programme such as mitigating coastal erosion, policy development and coastal resource management.

National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA)

The prime national institution for research in the coastal & marine sector is the NARA, which was established in the same year as CCD. It is entrusted with research and management of coral reef resources. NARA has initiated research on the ex situ conservation of some species of fauna and flora which are becoming rare in their natural habitats.

Marine Pollution and Prevention Authority

The Authority establishes to prevent, reduce & control of pollution in Sri Lankan waters. It has the primary responsibility of implementing the laws, which includes measures of prevention, damage control, & seeing that any measures are taken when there is an oil spill. And among the other duties to give effect to international conventions for the prevention of pollution of the sea and all the matters connected there with.

Department of Wild Life Conservation

-Management of protected areas and species
The dept. has assigned several guards to protect the reef from destructive action.

Central Environmental Authority

Establishing national environmental standards and the principal coordinating body for all environmental related activities, which includes overseeing Sri Lanka`s environmental impact assessment process.

Ceylon Tourist Board

The boards’ functions vested with planning and development of tourist facilities & it is the licensing authority for tourist related activities. The board has prepared a master plan for development of tourism and there are guidelines for hotel developers regarding pollution control.

Urban Development Authority

Responsible for planing and development of towns, cities and their networks of garbage disposal systems etc.

Sri Lanka Ports Authority

Supervises port development and management.

National Drainage & water supply Board

Supply of drinking water and sewage facilities

Sri Lanka has taken many measures so far to protect the coast including coral reefs. However, for a good coastal management practice, there is no generalized prescriptive recipe. Each case, each site brings with its own unique set of issues for consideration. Nevertheless, there is general framework within coastal resources can be sustainably used through appropriate policy making, management and technological intervention. With number of legislation, policies and agencies the country is on its way to protect the coast.

Identifying strategies /measures to minimize the problem

Ban of Coral mining and alternatives for sand mining

The CCD has played an important role in addressing the problem through a multitude of strategies covering legislation to prohibit mining, collecting, processing storing, and burning, transporting corals in the coastal zone.

F The complete ban on coral mining was imposed in 1983.The lack of total success in implementation of legislation in the country has been attached to 3 factors;

1. Macro economy of the country which limits the import of construction materials
2. Alternate inland deposits (dolomite)of lime stones are difficult and expensive to access.
3. Inadequate participation of local communities in steps leading up to the bans

F Steps have been taken to educate coral miners and schemes to provide alternative livelihoods to these depend on coral mining.

F Technology is being developed for using Miocene or dolomite limestone to produce lime of a quality and at a cost that would enable it to replace coral lime in construction work.

F Alternatives to sand mining such as deposits of sand in the in the flood plains away from the coast, alternative materials such as red earth, bassel and terrace gravels has been proposed in the country.

The sand mining can only take place under permit in areas identified by the CCD. But this will be issued under various conditions such as; if the removal will not cause adverse environmental impacts in adjacent sites, after removal the developer must replant the dunes with vegetation to prevent further loss due to wind erosion etc

Setting down environmentally sound tourism development

F CCD along with The Ceylon Tourist Board has taken many steps to mitigate the damage being done to the coast. The CTB has prepared a master plan for development of tourism and there are guidelines for hotel developers regarding pollution control. Removing of fishing boats and the glass bottom boats from the sanctuary is proposed but not implemented.

F The department of wild life conservation has put up large colorful boards indicating the sanctuary areas & its regulations have been installed on the beach.

F Glass bottom boats are being licensed thorough the local government authorities.

F Through SAM process a large number of local people have been educated on the value of coral reefs and the need to safeguard these valuable resources.

F The DWLC has appointed several guards to protect the reefs. It recommends practices that avoid unnecessary environmental problems from coastal tourism development.

F With regards to the solid waste disposal the developer must plan for solid waste storage and disposal methods for the resort. Total wastewater treatment and management systems are available in Sri Lanka and include bio convert systems, which operate for several hotels.

F The government of Japan has signed an agreement to provide the infrastructure for coastal tourist hotels between Marwila and Galle. This also reduces the social conflicts between tourism and other sectors.

Strict enforcement on Pollution

F The implementation and enforcement of legislation determine the ultimate control of all forms of marine pollution (ship board, industrial discharge, domestic sewage, and agricultural waste).

F One of the most powerful tools in minimizing the problem is the requirement to complete an EIA for domestic, industrial and tourism developments. This process clearly evaluates the environmental consequences of a proposed activity before action is taken.

Policy Measures


The ineffectiveness of law enforcement alone as the means of curbing adverse activities in coastal areas has amply demonstrated the need for adopting a participatory approach involving the local communities .The need also felt for management to proceed simultaneously at the national, provincial, district and local levels with the collaboration of several state agencies, local entrepreneurs, NGOs and communities.

What the community can do?

The community living within or on the fringes of the coast constitute the most conspicuous interest group. It is important to involve these communities in the conservation of coral reefs.

Reaching the local communities is the best method which can be implemented by accessing village heads, temple priests, social workers etc,. The community should be motivated to conserve coral reefs.

It is important that local communities are involved at an early stage in discussion of proposed development plans. In Sri Lanka the right of public access to the beach has been denied in several tourist areas leading to user conflicts. Such conflicts were reduced by beach nourishment schemes, which provided increased beach space for both fishers and tourists.

In order to prevent the coral reefs turning in to marketable tourist products community based conservation projects for”ecotoourism” have to be developed and managed with due care.

It is very essential to commence awareness programmes for different target groups to mitigate adverse effects of pollution, coral reef damaged and over harvesting of species from coastal and marine ecosystems.

What the NGOs can do?

Many NGOs play a significant role in the conservation in Sri Lanka`s coastal resources including coral reefs, both at national and grass root levels. The key NGOs are regularly consulted by the relevant governmental organizations on research and management activities, formulation of environmental policy and promotion of environmental education both at school and community level. But a major problem in involving NGOs in conservation and other similar activities is inadequate institutional capability.

Although it is widely recognized that NGO participation can considerably improve natural resources management. However their institutional capability should be strengthen and more resources should be provided. NGOs should play a balancing role. Clear policy initiatives and legal backup is essential for this task.

NGOs can play a vital role such as :
-mobilization of village communities
-awareness creation and skills development
-promoting conservation of reefs
-acting as link agencies
-assisting in law enforcement

What the private sector can do?

- Private sector should be made aware of the fact that the conservation of coral reefs should be a matter of concern to them
- A policy frame work should be formulated to promote their participation
- Legislative and lease hold mechanisms should be formulated to attract private sector participation in ecotourism
- It is very essential to establish a system where governmental and provincial authorities are empowered to charge in advance the cost of ecological restoration.

What the Government can do?

The government should:

- Built a strong and effective co-ordinating mechanism to secure the collaboration of all the concerned institutions in the effective management of the coastal zone.

- Enforce strictly the current laws against the
· use of explosives
· illegal types of fishing gear
· collection of species of fauna and flora under threat
· coral mining

- Promote preparation of management plans for the sustainable use of fisheries resources
- Monitor the extend of sustainability of harvesting coastal resource such as ornamental fish and other species
- Initiate and strengthen research programmes
· for ex-situ cultivation of important coral species
· to produce alternative materials to reduce marine based coral lime
· to determine the effects of sea level rise on marine and coastal habitats

- Formulate contingency plans for disasters such as large oil spills.

- Develop and apply feasible methods for waste disposal from industries, tourist hotels and house holds in coastal zone

- Develop capacity for ecotourism in selected coastal areas, with the participation of communities and local entrepreneurs

- Launch education creation and awareness programmes for different target groups to mitigate adverse effects of pollution, coral reefs damage and over harvesting of species from coastal and marine ecosystem.

- Identification of:
· Short term and long term data collection and research needs
· Sources of finance and mechanisms available to cover the cost of administering and managing the strategies and programmes

- Provide economic incentives for designated activities that promote conservation of coastal resources.

- Promote investment in activities that promote the sustainable use of coastal resources.

As a small developing island country, Sri Lanka owes quite a lot of its coasts. For centuries the livelihoods of coastal people in Sri Lanka have been dependent upon the coasts and its resources. But they have no close traditional affinity to the ocean that surrounds them. Since five decades following independence the coastal areas and resources are being depleted at an alarming rate.

The increasing populations and rapid unplanned development have driven the exploitation of coral reefs to extremes.

The laws exist; Public awareness programmes, educational programmes and public participation to have more effective solutions are being increasing. They are broad enough to encompass every possible threat to coral reefs. Yet the destruction continues!

There are many stake holders to Sri Lanka`s coasts and it`s resources. The state as the custodian and trustee, the community living within or the users of resources makes the most interest group. The NGOs are there to enhance natural resources management and to play supportive role. private sector developers with the financial support and with the beneficial aspects.

To achieve the goal of sustainable use of coastal resources and conservation of coral reefs there should be effective management of all interrelated activities in coastal areas have to be increased. What need to be done to keep our coral reefs safe is to fill the gaps between each other and knit the whole thing together.


v Arjan Rajasuriya, Keith Nakatani, Anil Premaratne, Alan T. White - The Coastal environmental Profile of Hikkaduwa-Sri Lanka 1994

v Arjan Rajasuriya,. De Silva, M.W.R. Ohman, M. -Coral reefs of Sri Lanka ,Human Disturbance and management issues- Ambio vol 24 No.7-8 Dec 1995

v Brown, Babara E - Integrated Coastal Management: South Asia Department for International Development

v Coast Conservation Department -Coastal Zone Management Plan 1990

v Dirk Bryant., Lauretta Burke, John Ma Manus, Mark Spalding Reefs at Risk -A Map based indicator of threats to the World`s Coral Reefs

v Gunawardena, Jagath. "Laws that protect bio diversity in Sri Lanka"

v IUCN - Impacts of Climate Change On Ecosystems and Species: Marine and Coastal Ecosystems

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v Ministry of Forestry and Environment, Bio Diversity conservation in Sri Lanka-A frame work for action 1998

v Monagurusamy, Priya-" Legal Aspects related to oil spills"

v Our Planet - Vol 9 No.5 1998

v People and Planet- Special Year of the Reefs issue -Corals In crises - Vol 6 No.2 1997

v Rodney V. Salam Assited by John R. Clark Marine and Coastal Protected Areas: A Guide for Planners and Managers

v UNESCO -1997 Global Coral Reefs Monitoring Net work -Strategic Plan

v Vidya - April 1999 Vol. 1 No. 2