Written By: Dhanushka
Saturday 19th January 2013 started out like any other day except for the fact that we arrived in Kalpitiya just in time to catch the gorgeous sunrise over the Indian Ocean. Our boatman and his family warmly greeted us and we set out in his 7 seater boat with happy expectations of catching a glimpse of some of our favorite mammals: dolphins and whales.
Unlike the Mirissa harbor, those who have been to Kalpitiya would know that there is a Navy outpost from which you need to initially purchase tickets in person to venture out to sea on a dolphin/whale expedition from the area. We dutifully purchased our tickets and set out towards the open waters around 7.45am, nodding hello to the many fishermen heading back to shore with their catch.
We had to only travel 20-30 minutes at sea before we came across a pod of playful dolphins that were more than happy to display their acrobatic prowess both in and out of the sea. As always it was magical to see these creatures in their element and we were happy to note baby dolphins happily swimming amongst the adults.
As we headed further north we learned some disturbing details from our boatman. He disclosed that illegal fishing nets were being used by certain fisher folk to increase their catch on a daily basis. This meant larger nets that would easily entangle dolphins, sea turtles and other marine mammals. Our boatman stated that he, along with like minded residents in the area who had a love for marine life, had already voiced their disapproval and opposed such destruction in open waters. However, it seemed to be still taking place despite this. This was disheartening news to say the least as apparently 10-15 dolphins were being disposed of due to being entangled in fishing nets.
Traveling further North, off the coast of Dutch Bay, we came across a solitary sea turtle and then happened across a larger pod of dolphins who stayed in close proximity to our boat for over 30 minutes, entertaining us with their unparalleled energy. Suddenly we noticed several fishermen in their boats speeding towards us and encircling the dolphin pod who unaware of any danger continued their feeding and playing. The fishermen seemed to be scouting the area and our boatmen quietly mentioned that these were the persons who were intent on using illegal fishing nets. Given the situation, we managed to take some photos at this point in time. We also noticed certain Navy personnel in the area passively watching from their Boats stationed just off the coast. We began to wonder if fishermen were allowed to fish in these waters rampant and unchecked. This would surely lead to a gradual reduction in marine life, not only dolphins, whales or sea turtles, but also tuna and other larger fish over time.
Later, we snorkeled in the shallow waters off the coast of Dutch Bay and were appalled to see several grey coral reefs that appeared dead or dying with little or no marine life around it. They looked like the dead and forgotten coral reefs of Hikkaduwa, destroyed by the many glass bottomed boats crashing into the reef. But this was Kalpitiya! Was this a result of continuous boating in and around the area or more disturbingly – as a result of dynamite used to stun or kill fish?
As we headed back to shore, we were all quietly contemplating the same thoughts. Should not sustainable fishing practices be introduced and fisher folk be educated on the same? This is continuously done in many other countries around the world and promoted by International wildlife conservation bodies such as the WWF. If the proper authorities such as the Sri Lanka Wildlife Department, the Department of Fisheries& Aquatic Resources (which incidentally state they are responsible for the sustainable utilization of fisheries and aquatic resources) and the Navy responsible for monitoring illegal activities in and around the coastal waters of Sri Lanka do NOT look into such matters prevailing around the island, soon there wouldn’t be any fish or mammals left in our seas. As frequent travelers, we can start by reporting on such incidents in the country and raise awareness as the younger generation seems more open to help protect our natural heritage for future generations. It may be a small step in the right direction but increasing numbers of concerned citizens could perhaps one day help to make wildlife conservation a priority in this country.
About the writer
Dhanushka is a senior executive working for a Colombo based finance firm. During his leisure time, he goes out of Colombo to enjoy the beach side of the country and also the wild-life parks. He describes himself as a ‘nature-lover’.
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