Udappu fishing village, Chilaw District, Sri Lanka

Uduppuwa Sand Dunes face Annihilation

The Sunday Observer (Colombo) of Sunday, 23 June 2002
by P. Krishnaswamy

Traditional fishing
Drying fish at Udappuwa

Sand dunes, several hundreds of them, reaching a height of 30 to 40 feet tower over the coastal beaches of Andimunai, a sea-side hamlet next to the well-known fishing village of Udappuwa, off Chilaw. These dunes are a vast panorama covering a coastal stretch of three kilometres in length and about 400 metres in width.

These sand dunes are a rare natural phenomenon found only in few coastal areas of Sri Lanka and has been described as 'a national heritage' worthy of preservation.

Aside from being a tourist attraction, the sand dunes are also ecologically significant. Environmentalists say that they stabilise coastal zones and provide habitat for plants. However, the sand dunes are now facing the threat of gradual annihilation, due to 'unauthorised' settlement of the fisher folk.

Environmentalists warn that human settlements in and around sand dunes could lead to their gradual destabilisation and the resultant sea erosion, strain on the bio-diversity and other related environmental problems. They also state that it is absolutely necessary to get clearance from the Coast Conservation Department and a scientific assessment, before implementation of settlement schemes. Udappuwa sand dunes

Well-known environmentalist lawyer Jagath Gunawardene when contacted for his views on the importance of sand dunes said that large destabilisation of sand dunes will cause sea erosion, breach of sea water into villages and other ecological problems. He warned that the effects would be more profound if the sand dunes were in the coastal belt. He also said that sea erosion was a very sensitive issue and that permission should be obtained from the Coast Conservation Department before embarking on any settlements in the sand dune areas, along with a proper scientific assessment.

"In these areas the environment has already suffered immensely due to unauthorised prawn farms in several thousands of acres. Destruction of natural resources for development should be the last option ", he said.

Chairman of the Central Environmental Authority, Ajita de Costa, and the Director of the Coast Conservation Department, R.A.D.B. Samaranayake, when contacted by the Sunday Observer, said that their offices had not given permission for any housing projects in the areas where the sand dunes were located. Both said that they quite agreed with the views of Mr. Jagath Gunawardena, and admitted that destabilizing sand dunes was a serious matter in the context of their environmental significance.