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Join us as we Celebrate NYE at the Old, Original – non Commercial – Siam View, Arugam Bay.
Music provided by ALOKA with DJ DIL from the Maldives.
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Be the 1st on Sri Lanka to welcome the New Year – on the still not too commercialized Eastern Coast.
The original article has been published 1/2/2007.
Today, being July 2015 Full Moon (Poya) Day many visitors ask us:
Where is the FMP?
Due to strict Government rules Arugam Bay does no longer host a proper, traditional Full Moon Party.
But here is the background:
The Full Moon Day or ‘Poya Day’ (like today) is not only a very special day on Koh Pang Ngan, but also has a certain relevance to Arugam Bay.
(btw: the 26th December 2004 also was a Poya Day….)
Whilst famous places like Goa and Thailand are (still?!) much more popular, attracting 10,000 or so followers, the monthly events held in Eastern Sri Lanka are almost certainly much older. If you consider the few 1960’s drop outs who came to worship the Full Moon long ago on our nearby most Easterly point of the island.
Going back in history, an official religion was registered in the Netherlands in 1966.
Critics claim that the ‘Full Moonie’ Sect may have been formed to avoid a clamp down by the local authorities at the time. And thereby followers could continue to enjoy the expression of their prescribed rituals which religious freedom guarantees under most Nations constitutions.
In brief, the founder members believed that the Full Moon possesses a certain power over mind and body. This is often been put into popular movies and there may be some element of truth in it if you observe animal behavior during such nights. The Full Moonies believe this energy should be used to meditate and to try and free ones mind – at least once a month to stay in good health.
In order to achieve this ‘cleaning of all evils’ from ones soul followers are not permitted to sleep until the sun rises. Other religions stipulate similar body control such as not eating during the day light hours etc.
As staying awake alone might prove difficult for some, stimulants and loud music as well as moderate drink (to free the mind) should be provided by the hosts:
So the first FMP was born in Europe.
In the late 1970’s two founding members decided that the open, fresh, ozone air, the open sea and most important an uncluttered view of the sun rising in the East would add to the spiritual experience.
All this proved rather difficult in marijuana polluted Holland due to cold weather. Also there is little in the way of an Eastern Sea front and the Mini European Nation has not too many palm fringed Bays either…
So a piece of land was purchased on the most Easterly point of Sri Lanka – guaranteeing warm weather, no authority interference and a clear infinite view of the open sea (all the way to Antarctica in fact).
In the beginning, just a handful of followers, first only with guitars and song, then with a car battery and mini sound system staged the ritual 12km North or sometime South of the Bay – in total privacy in one of the the open Bays dotted around Arugam Bay.
Like in Okanda Bay, Peanut Farm and Green Room or The Point at the time.
A camp fire is also a must.
Later, mainly keen surfers from Israel joined the sect as ‘free; members and small generators and better sound systems were added.
Often the music style reflected Trance or Techno as well as Ambiance and Psychedelic sounds – to assist in the holy ritual. Soft Chill-out music always followed towards the end of the session, around sun rise (see below) and Reggae was shunned.
This Century has seen a few changes. For the first time the area received mains electricity and a mini, casual police farce. The believers staged bigger and more professional events – all of which are of course to this day open and totally FREE for anyone to attend. Maybe the organizers hope to convert some dull or troubled, or too serious people to experience the benefit of strict physical exercise, like wild dance, which the medical profession agrees is actually very good for you?
(Like in any religion there are always the lazy ones, the hangers on, who abuse required rituals: At a many recent FMP a fair number of guys only tend to exercise their right arms and their bladders….:-) But it is the will to attend which counts.
Maybe one day Arugam Bay will be as popular as Goa?
Or the Thai islands?
Some say the Bay are too far from the airport. But so is Goa and Koh Samui – and it takes even longer to get there from Bangkok.
Rigth now the political situation as well as our law makers are more of an obstacle to gain wider popularity.
Some dwellers are worried of certain “Sound Pollution”.
The organizers answer: It’s only once a month and not 4 times every day, it is good to attract tourists. Full and even half Moonies are actually very high spenders!
And more so it is after all a very serious RELIGIOUS FESTIVAL.
Everyone in the Bay and the Country will see the benefit, also financially, eventually.
What else do we have to attract loads of visitors? There is a lot of stiff competition from much more stable Nations all around us. In every way.
As some see it, there is no difference between terribly loud Church bells, all night Temple Chants or frequent Mosque calls for payers:
Under the Sri Lanka Constitution religious freedom is said to be fully guaranteed. To anyone.
And who is to say what one should be allowed to believe in?
As long as the main principles are to love each other, be a good person and remain strictly non- violent?
Make LOVE – Not War! was one of the old slogans of the Early 60’s…..Has it totally lost its relevance in Ceylon?
In respect to the Buddhist Nation and local law, AbaY parties are never on the actual Full Moon Day itself. The Ceremony or ‘Party‘ finishes officially at sunrise on the morning of the actual Poya day. This is because in Asia this is the moment (about 06:00 am) when a new DAY begins.
In the mind of a converted Full Moonie the DAY does not begin in the middle of the NIGHT. They call it Midnight. In their refreshed mind the rising sun signals the beginning of a NEW Day. Do they have a point??
To avoid any possible confusion:
The liberal, happy and relaxed Full Moonies have as much to do with the controversial Korean “Moonies” as Half a Rupee with a Full Schilling:
There is NO connection what so ever with a Unification-, Fornication-, Fortification- or any other Church.
Just to demonstrate, again, scenes from the ancient rituals, taken around MIDNIGHT:
Some regard it as a miracle. None of the hundreds of FMP guests, organizers or DJ people suffered any kind of casualty or serious injury on Tsunami Poya Day – although the site was of course right on the very sea front, in the worst affected area of Sri Lanka, at Arugam Bay washed out by 15 Meter waves. True Full Moonies regard this as a protection from high above and inspiration to continue the holy rituals.
The Traditional 2105 Walk tru AbaY is online now.
Every Year since the 1990’s in mid-summer.
We do this to document Arugam’s changes and progress
Take a look on our Facebook page:
Red Bull Ride my Wave Competition
Arugam Bay gets ready for Red Bull Ride My Wave
Details and online Entry Form
On 23rd July, Red Bull Ride My Wave returns to the Sri Lanka’s surf capital, Arugam Bay.
Competing surfers will take on the waves in a head to head competition to be crowned champion of Red Bull Ride My Wave 2015.
Driven by the popularity of the 2014 event, this year’s edition of Red Bull Ride My Wave will see domestic and international surfers compete over three days on the island’s eastern coastline.
Red Bull Ride My Wave will be hosted by officials from the Association of Surfing Professionals, who will run the event as per international surfing rules and regulations, including three days of heats before culminating in the Finals on July 25th
The islanders will play with home advantage, but will no doubt face stiff competition from the international surfers. The combination of home grown and international talent promises to promote Sri Lanka as one of the best surfing destinations.
Red Bull has been actively involved in surfing events for several years, hosting competitions on every continent around the world. Surfing in Sri Lanka has seen a considerable movement from being a healthy pastime and tourism tool to one of professional sport. This has been driven by both passionate surfers within the country and Red Bull’s very own series of surfing projects. In 2013, Red Bull Sri Lanka held the Local Hero Tour with Peruvian Pro Surfer, Gabriel Villarán, who ran workshops and judged an intense competition where 30 young Sri Lankans showcased their talent on the beaches of Arugam Bay. The success of this event set the foundation for an international surfing stage in Sri Lanka, activating the inaugural Red Bull Ride My Wave last year. The competition pitted the sport’s greatest local surfers from the Eastern and Southern waters against each other in a quest to determine which region was home to the island’s best surfers. Hosted by Costa Rican Pro Surfer, Diego Naranjo, the East Coast team emerged victorious and went on to represent Sri Lanka at Red Bull Both Ways in the Maldives, where they placed 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively.
To register for Red Bull Ride My Wave 2015, sign up before July 19th 2015 at(0)
Why Sri Lanka is super-rich for wildlife
How geology, evolution and ancient cultures forged a super-rich wildlife destination
“Sri Lanka is a puzzle: it has large animals which a moderately sized island should not have. In fact it has the highest annually recurring concentration of wild elephants and possibly the highest density of leopards”
above: Toque Monkey 2008 08 05
This article unveils an internationally significant story. It quantifies how the species per unit area in Sri Lanka is unexpectedly anything from 5 to 13 times higher for certain species groups, than predicted by island bio geography in comparison to other large tropical islands such as Borneo, New Guinea and Madagascar. Sri Lanka is a puzzle: it has large animals which a moderately sized island should not have. In fact it has the highest annually recurring concentration of wild elephants and possibly the highest density of leopards. Unusually for a continental island, large whales are close to shore (best for Blue Whale and super-pods of Sperm Whales). This article is the first to provide a cohesive explanation in plain English as to how planetary physics, evolutionary forces and human factors have worked, almost as if with a design to create a wildlife super-rich island; arguably the best all-round wildlife watching destination.
This is the story of how evolutionary forces and ancient civilizations have made a tropical island super-rich for wildlife on a scale that is not seen anywhere on moderately sized or large islands. Sri Lanka’s super-richness on a proportionate scale eclipses large islands such as Madagascar, Borneo and New Guinea.
Alfred Russell Wallace, the founder of modern bio geography and Charles Darwin with whom he shared the theory of natural selection in evolution were both influenced by what they had observed on islands. Both of them would have been surprised by Sri Lanka. Almost every key driver of evolution seems to have played a part in shaping its biodiversity. The result is an island which is rich in wildlife both in terms of endemic tropical biodiversity as well as large land animals and marine mammals and in concentrations which give rise to some of the world’s most interesting wildlife spectacles. It’s an island which Wallace and Darwin or modern biologists could not have imagined as so many of the bio geographical and evolutionary forces have come in to play simultaneously, to create an unrivaled richness. To top it all, it’s a compact country with good tourism infrastructure making it optimal for wildlife tour operators.
This article is about the physical, evolutionary, and human factors that have made Sri Lanka something seemingly imaginary, but yet real.
In a previous article (Sunday Times: Sri Lanka, 13 January 2013) I explained why Sri Lanka has a claim to be the best all-round wildlife destination from a wildlife tour operator’s perspective. In this article I explain the physical, evolutionary and human-induced forces that have made this happen. In essence, I would simplify it conceptually into a three part ‘business model’ for the creation of a top wildlife destination. The first is a set of physical factors, especially those influencing both surface and underwater topography. These together with other planetary phenomena such as plate tectonics and monsoons create structural or topographical complexity on land and under water. Together with time, the topographical or structural complexity on land with monsoonal rainfall has led to the creation of distinct climatic (and hence ecological) zones that are the engine for specialization. Sri Lanka has benefited from other physical factors such as an ancient Gondwana start and having deep seas close to it unlike other continental islands. Having set up the right conditions for evolutionary factors, the engine of speciation needs to be fed with raw material. The output of the species production factory will be enhanced if besides the operation of long intervals of evolutionary time scales, new species production is boosted by fresh stocks of mainland species through immigrant waves. However, surprisingly, Sri Lanka has managed to produce a phenomenally above normal species richness (explained below with examples) primarily from evolutionary radiations within the island resulting in endemic genera and species. It seems that only later has it supplemented its cargo of species by land-bridging repeatedly with the mainland. This has become more apparent recently through phylogenetic studies using DNA.
I would describe the land-bridging as a five stage process for building up the number of species. During periods of glaciations, water is deposited as ice on land and sea levels fall forming a land bridge in the shallow seas. A land bridge is still physically evident in the discontinuous land bridge between Mannar and India, known as Adam’s Bridge. New waves of immigrants are imported to the island via the land bridge and dispersed and then isolated by rising sea levels drowning the land bridge during warming after an ice age (a post glacial). The new arrivals are physically stressed into niches by complex structural and physical factors of topography and climate. In essence, the process is connect – import and disperse – isolate – stress – speciate.
Glaciations have been a key agent of the island’s richness in allowing large land mammals to colonise and persist in Sri Lanka. However, phylogenetic studies indicate that most of the radiations of endemic species occurred before the land bridge connections of the Pleistocene epoch in the Quaternary Period. So land-bridging has helped, but still unresolved evolutionary forces have been responsible for the species super-richness which occurred before the recent Pleistocene ice age.
The third of the large scale factors is that it has benefitted from human factors or a cultural overlay. The last has two aspects. Firstly, the decline of ancient kingdoms has resulted in great seasonal gatherings of wild elephants and one of the best sites for leopards. This creates wildlife spectacles which make great viewing on wildlife safaris. (These spectacles have also been complemented by evolutionary factors mentioned above resulting in species radiations which are of great scientific interest even though species such as amphibians are not high on the list of commercial wildlife safaris). The second aspect of the cultural overlay is that the deep respect for life makes wildlife viewing easy as man and animals co-exist with great tolerance.
Taking Stock: What does Sri Lanka have?
Allow me to start by surprising you. If I asked you which country has the largest seasonally recurring gathering of elephants, what would your answer be? You might think it is somewhere in Africa. And if I asked you for an easy and reliable location to see Blue Whales, the largest animals to have lived on Earth and once one of the hardest animals to see, what would it be? Or consider super-pods of Sperm Whales, the largest toothed carnivore. Is there a country where there is a chance of seeing one on a commercial whale watch? Or one of the best to photograph leopards or the Sloth Bear (possibly the largest tropical bear)? The surprise is that the answer to all of these is the same country; Sri Lanka. This is both impressive and surprising given that it is in contradiction to conventional island biogeography according to which a moderately sized island (65,610sq. km.) is unlikely to have large terrestrial animals.
Sri Lanka’s potential to be the best for big game safaris outside Africa (albeit on a different and smaller scale) is only now beginning to be discovered by wildlife photographers from both within and outside the island.
All-right, I hear you say; top marks for the big stuff. But what about biodiversity? Well, let me surprise you again and illustrate it with a recent statistic. First remember that it is well established that the larger the land area, the larger the number of species will be (the species-area relationship). Of course we also need to compare land areas from similar latitudes because species richness increases as one travels from high latitudes to the tropics. Let’s take inland snakes for example. Sri Lanka has 89 species in approximately 66,000sq. km. How much more would you estimate that other tropical islands which are approximately between nine to twelve times bigger will have?
The numbers are surprising: New Guinea (86 species in 786,000sq. km.), Madagascar (91 species in 578,000sq. km.) and Borneo (141 species in 734,000sq. km.). One would have expected these islands to have ten times as many species. But none manages even twice as much and the extent which Sri Lanka is above the species-area curve is conspicuous even if you factor in that more species are to be discovered in the bigger islands. The relative species per unit area is extraordinary and is repeated with many species groups.
So why is Sri Lanka off the curve?
Clearly there is something remarkable and special going on with the forces of speciation, about which the island has still received little international publicity, although that will change when wildlife film producers pay it more attention.
For many vertebrate species, Sri Lanka ranks high in terms of species per unit area. Let’s take a closer look at one vertebrate example where this may not seem to be the case. Costa Rica is synonymous with amphibians. With a land area of 51,000sq. km. it is fifteen per cent smaller than Sri Lanka and has more amphibian species; 199 versus the 120 from Sri Lanka. So is Sri Lanka not special with amphibians? Although Costa Rica is smaller as a political unit, it benefits from being part of the large physical unit of South America. Therefore in a wider sense the species-area still holds as it has benefitted from being a part of the vast South American continent. A better comparison for Sri Lanka would be a similar sized or larger island which is a natural bio-geographical entity. For example, Madagascar, which is nine times bigger, has only two and a half times as many amphibian species.
After mammals, birds are the most ‘touristy’ of animals. Sri Lanka has 33 species of endemic birds, largely confined to its lowland and highland wet zones. The number of endemic birds per unit area is high compared to Borneo (52 species) and Madagascar (106 species with a 51% endemism rate), but on par with New Guinea (320 species). A further fifty plus species of birds found in Sri Lanka are shared only with India (subcontinental endemics). Furthermore, it has a special avian spectacle in the Sinharaja Bird Wave. This is the longest continuously studied mixed species bird flock phenomenon in the world, with the largest average number of individuals in a flock from such studies and offers the most stable viewing of usually fast moving tropical bird waves. The island is the last stop on the Central Asian flyway and a million migrant shorebirds were counted one February in a land based census which suggests that Viddathalthivu in the Mannar region may even be the most important integral site for migrants on the Central Asian flyway. The shorebirds make landfall in Sri Lanka funnelling through the once powerful ancient seaport of Mannar through to the Palatupana Salterns and Bundala National Park in the South: the latter two offer some of the best close viewing of waders in the world.
As explained earlier, a three factor ‘business model’ has been at work to create this extraordinary richness and I will expand on this in the sections to follow.
Creating the perfect, super-rich wildlife destination
Imagine your goal was to create the perfect location for wildlife tourism. Sri Lanka would be a good example of how to go about it. You want to keep it small so that tourists don’t have to travel too far from one location to another. But not too small as small areas don’t have many animals and also cannot hold on to their animals. An island would be good as isolation allows species to evolve into new species. An ancient start would help. So let’s begin with Sri Lanka being split off from ancient Southern Gondwana, tethered to India and drifting north on the Indian tectonic plate, carrying an ancient cargo of species which results in affinities between species in Madagascar and Sri Lanka. Next, crash the Indian plate into the Asian land mass (creating the Himalayas) and allowing Palaearctic mammals such as the tiger to drift south into India. Anchor Sri Lanka nearby as a continental island to enable immigration of species from the Asian mainland. But leave the island isolated for sufficiently long interglacial periods (where sea levels rise cutting off the island) for the process of speciation to allow endemics to evolve.
Isolation and physical stresses have resulted in high levels of endemism (e.g. 100% freshwater crabs, 95% amphibians, 80% land molluscs, 53% freshwater-obligate fish, 52% of dragonflies, 25% flowering plants, etc.).These have been supplemented by the ‘immigrants’ from later land bridge connections. The down-side of repeat connections is that Sri Lanka does not have as high a proportion of endemic species or a number of endemic families as found on an island such as Madagascar.
Physical isolation is not enough and ecological isolation is also desirable, both from Asia and within the island. A good trick here is to create a central mountainous core, with two alternating and diagonally blowing monsoons (the Southwest and North-east) creating a very moist ‘wet zone’, distinct from a ‘dry zone’. The mountains also allow for a further vertical zonation, allowing more speciation to take place as some species diverge into sister species at different altitudes. Horton Plains National Park, the roof of Sri Lanka has many species confined to the highlands.
Build on this theme by up-thrusting a few more rugged, spectacular mountain ranges such as the Knuckles Wilderness creating elevated wet zone ‘islands ‘within the wet zone.This creates point endemics such as the Tennent’s Leaf-nosed Lizard in the Knuckles. For extra measure add a few mountainous edges to lowland rainforests like Sinharaja to create more point endemics like Karu’s and Erdelen’s Dragon-lizards in Eastern Sinharaja (15 of the 18 agamid or dragon-lizards are endemic). Indulge in more innovation by throwing up a mountain with a wet zone character; Ritigala, surrounded by a sea of dry zone with more point endemics and build a legend around it that it was a piece of medicinal herb rich mountain from the Himalayas dropped by the Monkey God Hanuman as told in the Indian epic of Ramayana. Culture and wildlife go hand in hand in this area of ancient kingdoms of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, where the tallest archaeological brick buildings in the whole world; giant stupas, stand. Endemic Toque Monkeys wage ferocious tribal wars watched over by meditating saffron robed monks and are studied in one of the longest running zoological field studies in the world; the Smithsonian Primate Research project.
The process of speciation can be accelerated further by throwing in a few evolutionary tricks like direct development in the Rhacophorid Tree Frogs. This allows them to skip the stage of laying eggs in water and having tadpoles developing in water which leaves them vulnerable to periods when ephemeral bodies of water dry out. Instead, allow them to use foam nests in which the eggs develop into little frogs which plop out fully formed allowing one of the significant species radiations discovered in the 20th century to take place. There are many other examples of species radiations; for example all 20 of the forestdamsels described so far from the island are endemic. In fact Sri Lanka has four, five, and six times as many species of dragonflies per unit area than New Guinea, Borneo and Madagascar respectively. Geological turmoil and variations in the climate creating ‘ecological niches’ could also have created physical stresses that favoured evolutionary variation. In fact, although I have referred to Sri Lanka’s land area as 66,000 sq. km., most of the endemism is packed into an area of around 15,000 sq. km. ; less than a quarter of the total in what comprises the wet zone. This ‘localisation’ of small-range endemic species makes the endemicity (e.g. 740 endemic flowering plants in the wet zone) and the species richness in the wet zone even more remarkable.
Whilst all this is happening, keep stirring the evolutionary brew with fresh material. A few judiciously spaced out glaciations will lower sea levels forming a land bridge (Adam’s Bridge linking India to Mannar across the Palk Strait) allowing mainland species to immigrate and start anew to evolve into new species. Wildlife tourists like big stuff, so keep the land bridge open to get a good population in of the elephants, leopards and Sloth Bears. Ooops! Closed it too soon as enough tigers did not make it across to establish a viable population.
Having got the big stuff in, one may as well make an eco-tourism spectacle out of it. This requires some human intervention or anthropogenic factors for the technically minded. Throw in a liberal sprinkling of ancient kings who will usher a golden age of hydraulic civilisation. They will dot the island’s dry zone with grand civil engineering works, with vast lakes (e.g. the Sea of Parakrama) irrigating agriculture. Allow this to go to ruin and perfect conditions are made for the Elephant Gathering at Kaudulla and Minneriya in the North-Central Province where over 300 elephants may gather on the receding lakes in search of grazing, water, mates and social networking (elephants don’t use Facebook)! Allow the farmland in the South-East in Yala to turn to grassland where together with the man-made waterholes, conditions are perfect for high densities of Spotted Deer, in turn creating one of the highest densities of leopards. The over 2,000 man-made lakes or wewas create wildlife rich wetlands which pre-date the interventionist conservation efforts of the London Wetland Centre. In Yala at Buttuwa Wewa, this results in the largest seasonal concentration in the world of the Mugger or Freshwater Crocodile, the second largest land reptile in the world. Not far away, the soft sandy beaches are visited by five of the seven species of marine turtle including the Leatherback; a giant!
Introduce Buddhism and Hinduism, two great world religions with a respect for animal life. Most animals lose their fear of people and everything from leopards in Yala, Blue and Sperm Whales in the surrounding oceans to fighting Purple Swamphens in Talangama Wetland (close to the commercial capital Colombo) are embarrassingly curious and camera friendly for tourists.
With the top side sorted out, the marine side needs some attention as well. The trick here is to have deep water close to shore which suits the large whales (unlike an island like Britain which is covered with shallow seas or the islands of the Indonesian archipelago).
Improve on this by having the continental shelf pinching in at the South at Dondra Head near the fishery harbour of Mirissa so that Blue Whales can be seen easily close to shore on a morning whale watch from a coastline studded with luxury villas, boutique hotels and backpacker crash pads. Create a deep 400m depth isobath running north-south for Sperm Whales in Kalpitiya (the Sperm Whale Strip of E 79 35 to E 79 40). Slide a peninsula of golden sandy beaches out onto it so that the Sperm Whales are a mere fifteen minutes by boat. For those for whom boats are not their thing, thrust a deep submarine canyon into Trincomalee in the North-East so that Blue and Sperm Whales can be seen from ashore on some days from the temple atop Swami Rock or very rarely from the pool side of beach hotels. For extra good measure throw in a few more canyons on the east coast which are good for enigmatic and elusive beaked whales. All of this is being a bit greedy as the island also has shallow seas where it needs it most; close to the mainland, to allow intermittent land connections for the immigrant waves to supplement the speciation factory.
The island has the best of everything in terms of underwater topography; now add to this a generous mix of nutrients. Whales need food; lots of it. The two monsoons are in charge of the kitchen, driving a hundred and three river systems (yes, that’s right, 103) bringing down rich organic nutrients from the mountains, slow released from the lichen cloaked cloud forests to the lowlands creating nutrient rich soup around the island. The Blue Whales and the Cloud Forests are inter-connected. Not content with that, whip up some speed with the monsoons and create upwellings, which generate phytoplankton blooms which show up on Indian remote sensing satellites suspended in space in geo-synchronous orbits. All of this food creates fringing coral reefs which are rich in marine species.
Sri Lanka’s coastline which is 432km long has approximately 800 species of marine fish recorded. Sites better publicised for their marine wildlife such as the 1,126km long Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) has 700 species of fish. The Maldivian islands which stretch across 1,500km have around 1,200 species recorded and the Great Barrier Reef stretching over 2,600km has 1,500 species. If we consider the number of marine fish species per unit length, we can see that Sri Lanka has roughly treble the statistic for the Gulf of California and double that for the Maldives. This is a very crude measure but it helps to give a flavour to the layperson of the relative species richness. The nutrient rich water in Sri Lanka and the monsoons which lash the shores reduce visibility in the water.
The lack of good viewing has resulted in its species richness not being understood as almost everyone including dive operators in Sri Lanka think the waters are ‘poor’ for fish compared to other tropical destinations. I have come to realise that ‘poor viewing’ has been confused with ‘poor species richness’, which it is not.
To be clear about context, for big game safaris many countries in Africa are unmatched. Large tropical islands such as Madagascar and New Guinea, lack large land mammal herbivores such as elephants or large carnivores such as leopards (Borneo does not have leopards and the origin of its elephants is disputed) but in absolute terms of species, have huge biodiversity. However, from the viewpoint of commercial wildlife tourism, in terms of ease of access, tourism infrastructure, affordability and with a short time frame of say two weeks, there is no country which has the array of terrestrial big game, endemism-rich species density, spectacular marine wildlife, diverse landscapes and close-knit cultural bonds (love-hate with elephants) with wildlife that is found in Sri Lanka.
The proof of the pudding of the physical, evolutionary and human factors is in the viewing. A visit of mine in April 2012 is an example of good evidence. I had an amazing trip where in the space of two weeks I watched courting Blue Whales, scrumming Sperm Whales, had a mother and baby elephant pad silently past my vehicle and drove back to camp in the gathering dusk, passing leopards out on the hunt.
In this article, I have with some speculation on my part drawn together material that is known from Sri Lanka and the mechanics of large scale processes studied elsewhere. Science is dynamic and what is known and conjectured today can change. But the broad principles should hold true and I hope I have explained why Sri Lanka deserves more attention from both those viewing wildlife for pleasure as well as those studying how planetary forces and time, drive the great engine of evolution and biogeographical distributions. At this point I should add a gentle reminder that in reality evolution is a ‘blind process’ although I have for the purpose of telling a story, written it as if evolution had set out to make a super-rich wildlife destination.
I have to add that although it is arguably the best all-round country for multi-faceted wildlife viewing with ease, it comes with a caveat.
Sri Lanka does need improvement in terms of better interpretation and better facilities for visitors at parks and reserves and more responsible guiding. Finally and alarmingly, less than 8% of its biodiversity rich wet zone remains forested and more attention is needed both locally and internationally to lay emphasis on how special this island is for its wildlife.
Island Magic: A summary of how Planetary Physics, Evolution and Ancient Cultures forged a super-rich wildlife destination
- Physical Factors
Continental Island – Permitted intermittent land connection with mainland allowing immigrant waves (see below). Also continental islands usually inherit a rich stock of species unlike oceanic islands created from volcanic activity.
Origin – Benefits from an ancient stock of species which have become island endemics but shows affinities to groups as far away as in Madagascar.
Two diagonally blowing monsoons and a central mountain range – Highly distinct and extreme climatic zones found more typically on large continental masses.
Isolation – Despite the intermittent land connections and proximity to the mainland, the creation of a climatically distinct wet zone, allowed speciation to operate in the manner it does in isolated environments.
Mountain ranges – The central mountains together with the monsoons have created a topographical and climatic complexity, driving evolutionary forces to create more species. Some mountain ranges have ‘point endemics’ and they create pockets of isolation all over the island.
Deep seas close to shore and shallow seas with mainland. Best of both. – Sri Lanka violates the rule about continental islands having shallow seas around them by having deep seas and submarine canyons (except where it needs shallow seas the most, near the mainland to form intermittent land bridges). The deep seas create conditions for Blue Whales and Sperm Whales to be very close to shore, within sight of naked eye at times.
River Systems – The 103 river systems drain a vast flow of organic nutrients into the deep seas around the island. Per unit length of distance, the coral reefs have more species than more famous marine reserves such as the Gulf of California and the Great Barrier Reef. But rich nutrient load and silt results in poorer visibility than other dive destinations.
- Evolutionary factors
Intermittent land bridge connections to mainland – Allowed successive immigrant waves from mainland to boost the number of species in the island and to a lesser extent supply a speciation factory with new material. Later colonisers if successful may evolve into new species if they penetrated ‘pockets of isolation’ in the wet zones. Sri Lanka breaks the rule that moderately sized or small islands don’t have large animals thanks to the intermittent land bridge.
Species Radiations – For example, rainforest tree frogs in the genus Philautus have evolved direct development, skipping egg laying and tadpoles in the water allowing them to radiate into new species. Other groups such as the Shadowdamsels have all 20 plus species endemic to the island. Evolutionary forces have resulted in Sri Lanka breaking the species-area relationship for islands. Land bridges may have played a part, although present evidence is that it has been a small influence.
- Human factors
Ancient Civilisations and Religion – The Elephant Gathering and the high density of Leopards in Yala are both results of intense agricultural farming. A religious respect for other living beings means Blue Whales and Sperm Whales swim up to boats. Birds and other animals are prolific and tame.
Wildlife spectacles, high proportion of endemism, large number of species, large animals and easy viewing Sri Lanka is the best in world for some of the most charismatic or desired species (e.g. Blue Whale –largest animal, Sperm Whale super-pods – largest toothed carnivore) or has special spectacles (e.g. the largest recurring elephant gathering, the Sinharaja Bird Wave, high density of Leopards) all in a compact island with good tourism infrastructure and good specialist guides.
Ice Ages and Speciation
The table below summarises a 5 stage process in which a continental island like Sri Lanka would have benefitted by ice ages in enhancing species diversity. This assumes that ice ages acted to lower sea levels in the tropics but did not cover the land with ice sheets as it did in temperate latitudes with islands like Britain. If an island is covered with ice sheets, it will kill species and leave it poor. Britain for example has only 35 species of trees which are native. On the other hand a tropical island like Sri Lanka which was not covered in ice would benefit from a two way exchange of species with the mainland. The dry zone has benefitted from this connection and has species which are found in Southern India and in the northern half of Sri Lanka. The island also has large land mammals such as the elephant and large carnivores such as the leopard not typically found on moderately sized islands.
Puzzlingly and inconveniently, the phylogenetic studies on plants and animals suggest that radiation of species in Sri Lanka took place in the Tertiary age before the series of ice ages in the Pleistocene Epoch (in the Quaternary Period) with the last land bridge connection being as recent as 10,000 years ago. This poses two questions. Firstly, we see that evolutionary events happened in Sri Lanka so many millions of years ago that have left it richer in species compared to much larger tropical islands. New Guinea and Borneo also have varied topographies and have the structural complexity and physical stresses that Sri Lanka has.
If evolutionary events happen because of physical factors combining with random mutations in genes, why has the species per unit area not remained proportionate? Secondly, during the recent ice ages in the Quaternary Period, did the wet zone remain isolated from the Indian mainland surrounded by a sea of dry zone? For answers to the latter question more work will need to be done on the fossil record on plant pollen to understand the extent of different types of forest on the island. The five stage process I have outlined below is a useful general model, but based on what is known at present does not provide the evolutionary answers for Sri Lanka being super-rich in species. This is still a puzzle.
How ice ages could drive a 5 stage speciation process
- Isolate and Disperse
Repeat to enhance species richness
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Structural improvements were made to the article from comments from Pippa Jacks (Managing Editor of Travel Trade Gazette) and other useful comments were received from Tara Wikramanayake who also performed an extensive copy edit. Many others were used as a sounding board by me before I wrote this article. None of these people necessarily agree with the views and speculation the author makes in this article. My thanks to Keith Wijesuriya and his team at OMD Sri Lanka for designing the booklet which was released on 1 July 2014. The graphics showing the relative species richness is reproduced with permission from the Sunday Times: Sri Lanka and was prepared by Nalin Balasuriya. This article was first published as two articles in the Sunday Times Sri Lanka on 20 April 2014 and 27 April 2014. This version has been amended and expanded. The citations for the original articles are given below.
de Silva Wijeyeratne. G. (2014). Why Sri Lanka is super-rich for wildlife. Sunday Times: Sri Lanka. Sunday Times Plus. Page 8. Sunday 20 April 2014. Part 01.
de Silva Wijeyeratne. G. (2014). Creating a super-rich wildlife destination. Sunday Times: Sri Lanka. Sunday Times Plus. Page 8. Sunday 27 April 2014. Part 02.
The following citation is suggested for the expanded version of the articles which was released as a pdf.
de Silva Wijeyeratne. G. (2014). Why Sri Lanka is super-rich for wildlife. Pdf, circulated electronically. Version 1 July 2014.
The road to Arugam Bay’. A surfer’s paradise. This story ran in Gulf air’s inflight magazine, Gulf Life. The images have also been used by CNN Traveller and by the Metro newspaper. It’s an arduous journey to Arugam Bay. Even after making it to Sri Lanka’s capital Columbo, it’s a further twelve hours along dusty this is a small price to pay for the amazing scenery and wildlife you’ll see.
Famous for its glorious west coast resorts and elephant safaris, Sri Lanka is a firm tourist favourite. But the east coast of Sri Lanka represents uncharted waters for most. Home to pristine beaches and a laidback lifestyle, Arugam Bay is carving out a niche for itself as a surfing paradise. Natacha Butler visits the country’s latest safari hotspot to catch a few waves
It’s a little after sunrise on Sri Lanka’s east coast and at Arugam Bay the first surfers are out. Tousled-haired local boys and wave-chasing tourists breeze across the golden sand with well-worn surfboards tucked underarm. They head to the end of the long beach, to Main Point, where six-foot waves rise and roll to shore. “I’ve been surfing for 12 years, twice a day, everyday,” says Fawas Lafeer, the 26-year-old head of the Arugam Bay Surf Club. “I love it,
I can’t imagine life not surfing, which is why I’ll always live here; the waves are really good.” The waves are not just good, they are some of the best in the world, which is why surf-lovers have been making the journey to this far-flung sleepy community on Sri Lanka’s east coast for decades. In the 1960s and 1970s they would set-off from the capital Colombo on an arduous nine-hour cross-country car journey on a barely-there road. Most were Australians and Europeans chasing the thrill of an Indian Ocean ride.
Entranced by the breaks and a sweeping curved beach lined with palm trees, several ended up staying, helping to transform a poor fishing village into the nation’s top surf spot. “Back then people came from everywhere,” says Anglo-Dutch civil engineer Fred Netzband-Miller, who arrived at Arugam Bay to surf in 1977, fell in love with the place and decided to call it home. He now runs the local hoteliers’ association. “It was the combination of quality waves and a beautiful beach. Although there’s not much rain it’s a very lush place because of the rivers. I’ve travelled the world, but Arugam Bay is unique. ”The bay became such a hot destination in surf-circles that travellers never abandoned it despite the shock of the devastating 2004 tsunami, which battered the Sri Lankan coast on 26 December claiming more than 30,000 lives, including one in ten people in Arugam Bay. They also defied nearly three decades of deadly civil conflict between Tamil Tiger rebels and the Sri Lankan military. “During the war surfers still came, they did not stop,they were not afraid,” explains Lafeer. “You know surfers only think about surfing,” he laughs. Continue reading ‘THE NEAREST FARAWAY PLACE’
SAR at Arugam Bay
Innovative MoU signed in China
President Srisena has this week signed a MoU (Memo of Understanding) at the Annual Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) in Boao, Hainan, China. Agreement has been reached for the creation of an experimental Special Administrative Region (SAR) in the Deep South East of Sri Lanka.
The area around ARUGAM BAY, reaching from PottuVille to Panama has long been regarded by international observers and experts as an ideal location. Arugam Bay rests in a very safe and easy controllable position. Perfect in fact to become a model project.
The plan is to grant AbaY (as it is internationally known) Sri Lanka’s first ever autonomous Administrative region status and allow special privileges. Some forward thinking members within the new S.L Government seem to have realized that the SAR approach has worked wonders elsewhere, such as HongKong, Singapore, Macao, Dubai etc.
Tourism wise Sri Lanka is well below expected targets. It’s neighbour, directly opposite (Burma / Myanmar) had far less arrivals a few years ago. But with clever politics Burma -also a former British Colony – has now reached out to nearly 5 Million arrivals. This needs to be addressed Government insiders have long argued. Arugam Bay SAR is seen to be the perfect solution.. Even a ferry service between Burma, Thailand and India and AbaY’s beautiful East Coast should be considered.
Everyone agrees that the new SAR project will boost investments, tourism, personal freedom, integration and promote many innovative developments.
The region decided upon in this – old fashioned convention breaking – MoU includes the already existing, but controversial huge ‘Buckingham Palace’ cum ‘International Convention Centre’ (depending on which report you believe) build by the previous Government just a few miles South of the main Bay at ‘Peanut Farm’. Proposed is a full Duty free status and unrestricted imports, lower interest rates, relaxed immigration and excise rules and an innovative visa on arrival facility. Other proposals include relaxed night club, party and recreation facilities. However, a decision to allow Packer style casinos and similar activities has not been reached.
During his visit President Srisena held talks with China’s leadership, seeking to smooth ruffled feathers after scuttling Chinese-funded projects and seeking stronger ties with regional rival India.
Sirisena has unnerved China by suspending a $1.4 billion “port city” project in Colombo that India considered a security risk, and ordering a review of other Beijing-financed projects and loans amid allegations of corruption. China has warned of consequences for future investments and relations have looked to worsen. Yet for China, Sri Lanka has never been more important. With its man in Colombo out of the picture, Beijing is under pressure to move quickly to find new ways to engage a country where its strategic interests remain just as vital, yet its diplomatic clout is on the slide at a time when competing powers are circling.
Political analysts and Government insiders suggest that the AbaY SAR project has been decided upon to please all sides and the three Nations involved.
The remote Arugam region never presented any strategic importance. Not even the LTTE or the GOSL forces found any reason to fight or protect indigenous fishing folk, a few foreign surfers or the odd pot-smoking drop-out.
During his state visit to Sri Lanka, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Mogli pledged US$380 million under an Indian Line of Credit for the development of the railway sector in Sri Lanka. Both India and China have invested in railway projects in Sri Lanka.
India in turn has agreed to connect the AbaY SAR with the North of the Island, proposed a ferry Service from Tamil Nadu to Olluville’s existing but not used deep sea harbour and extend rail links from Jaffna to Matara via Batticaloa. The old British Colonial plan of PottuVille Central Railway station has also been considered.
China seems to have agreed to fund the extension of the Southern Highway to link up with the proposed Eastern Motorway. Which would run from Matara to connect Mattala Airport and continue past Siyamalanduwa to connect with Batticaloa.
The AbaY SAR agreement is seen as a compromise, pleasing both India and China. If SAR is successful, the controversial and now shelved Colombo Port project will also be shifted to the East Coast.
Existing environmentalist studies indicate that there are no objections. A future connection with Hambantot deep sea Harbour as well as Mad-Mattala International Airport would bring huge benefits to this remote and very underdeveloped area.
This is seen to be an olive branch towards the former Rajapack Governement, who invested Chinese fortunes into fairly hopeless and now dormant projects. Rajapack-Matatla International Airport would become a Charter only as well as a Low Cost Airline hub under the existing plans.
Location and Community relations
Arugam Bay occupies a unique, but also very remote location. Amazing statistics show, that they enjoy 333 days sunshine/ each year. A perfect resort in every aspect. Combining Sports, Surf, Wild Life, amazing Historical places (some 5,000 years old!) with totally non-commercial, unspoiled, untouched village life. AbaY basically has everything the entire island has to offer: But this is just in a tiny, condensed corner of the Nation.
The only access is through thick jungles and National Parks. Via one single road. Crossing one single bridge. Continue reading ‘SAR at Arugam Bay’
…….“Sri lanka’s best beach is in Arugam Bay” ……
Addressing a public meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe revealed facts about a mansion that was being built in Arugam Bay.
The meeting was held in the Uluwitige area in Galle.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe speaking at the meeting expressed these views,
”Recently I located a palace. It is bigger than the Buckingham palace. This was found in Arugam Bay. This palace also has a name. It is called the International Coordinating Headquarters. What we have found here are chalets, in other words holiday bungalows. There were 57 chalets. They were VIP chalets with pools. There are three pools. This is in the sea and it is 100 feet long. Sri lanka’s best beach is in Arugam Bay. There are pools here. What is the purpose of this. Can international coordination be done from Arugam Bay? For whom are these built? Now we have put a halt to it. They have already built 15. Only walls have been put up and we have stopped further work. The Parliament has not given approval for this. Money from the Presidential Secretariat has been given for this. All financial regulations have been violated. Who paid for these? When these expenses were stopped, we could lower the fuel prices.”
Minister of Mass media and Parliamentary affairs Gayantha Karunathilake too expressed views at the meeting.
”They filled their pockets with commissions from road construction. This government will initiate a new beginning where everything will be done in a transparent way. All this would be done within the one hundred day programme.”
Originally published 10/01/2010 (5 years ago)
But this issue is now even more urgent.
At remote Arugam Bay, a few hundred homeless dogs are waiting to be adopted by caring animal lovers. Please help to save them.
A sponsor has already been found to provided a suitable, safe vehicle.
To take them to Colombo or elsewhere on the island.
All animals will be collected, fed, treated and transported with the outmost care & respect
All the Community needs is an address to deliver them to.
Please, animal Lovers:
Please do come forward and let us know where to send them to.
Before even more are run over by speeding and careless drivers on our new fast roads!
The Social Networks are buzzing.
With appeals and online petitions to stop a rumored animal cull.
We support this initiative!
But. What to do?
At Arugam Bay four costly sterilization programs have been carried out, since the 2004 Tsunami.
In our remote Bay residents and visitors are unsure if any success can be reported.
Many people are simply too scared to walk on the beach or indeed the road, specially at night. Due to large packs of hungry dogs around.
Below is a copy of one of the stories we covered 5 years ago.
The writer of this article has personally observed that one particular, disabled bitch alone has had a litter every year since and produced 60 or so pups, most of which appear to be unwell or/and mentally unstable …..
Something has to be done – This situation is out of control.
The article below was first published 6th Marc, 2007:
The Tsunami Animal People Alliance (TAPA) has, in the true sense of the word: emBarked on a dog sterilization program at Arugam Bay.
In total 300 – 400 dogs are being treated locally.
Arugam.info is informed that about 10,000 have been spayed island wide already.
It is said to be the best and most humane method of controlling stray and infected animals.
The visiting, all Sri Lankan team consists of 4 qualified vets and 7 assistants, a van, and a mobile clinic.
Arugam.info is informed that a budget of 18$/dog has been secured by foreign donors, most of which (10$) will be used for quality drugs and medicines.
Take a look at the work in the attached photo album. Continue reading ‘Adopt an AbaY dog’
Arugam Bay. Pushed from pillar to post And largely left on it’s own. 10 years ago.Sri Lanka, the tsunami and the evolution of disaster response COLOMBO, 24 December 2014 (IRIN) – On the morning of 26 December 2004, Mohideen Ajeemal, a fish distributor from Sainathimaruthu, a village on Sri Lanka’s eastern coast, hurriedly climbed a coconut tree to escape rapidly rising seawater. As he did so he saw his young daughter and son struggling to save themselves. “I found both bodies later that afternoon. My son’s body was swept away about a mile, my daughter’s had got stuck in a fence,” he
said. A decade later, the 45-year-old said he finally feels safer next to the sea. “Now I check the weather regularly, I have SMS alerts on my phone that warn me of possible dangers,” he said. On 15 November 2014 when a 7.3 magnitude earthquake was reported 150km northeast of the Indonesian island of Maluku, an SMS alerted Ajeemal that there was no danger to Sri Lanka. Continue reading ‘Lessons Learned?’
|Verfasst am: 06.08.2005 08:23Â Â Â Titel:
Surfen in Arugam
‘Healing watersCarolyn Fry finds that surfing is helping one Sri Lankan resort to get back on its feet after the tsunami
Tuesday August 2, 2005
Alan Stokes takes on the surf at Arugam Bay. Photograph: Carolyn Fry
On a sweeping stretch of cinnamon sand, a crowd turned its eyes to the rolling ocean surf. Local families, holiday-makers and a throng of photographers, film-makers and journalists were gathering to see the 2005 Champion of Champions surf contest in Arugam Bay, south-east Sri Lanka.
The legendary ‘right-handers’ of Arugam Bay have long attracted travelling wave-riders. During the country’s 20-year civil war, a dedicated group of Australian surfers regularly risked being bombed, or shot in cross-fire during violent battles between Tamil Tigers and the army. With the end of the conflict in 2002, more adventurers started to make the 10-hour journey along narrow, pitted roads to the famed beach.
Last year, when the British Professional Surfing Association (BPSA) held the first ever Champions surfing competition in the area it seemed things were finally looking up for this dusty, laid-back cluster of low-rise hotels, palm-roofed cabanas and fishermen’s shacks.
A message posted on the Siam View Hotel’s website at Christmas said: “The 2004 season has been the best the bay has ever seen. Nothing – not even another civil war – can stop the bay’s progress now.”
Hours later, the first of eight waves struck, sucking a metre of sand from the base of palms on Arugam Point, plucking cabanas and their inhabitants from the sand and smashing a thickening cargo of debris through the windows of the buses on the main street.
Simon, owner of the unfortunately named Tsunami Hotel, was managing the Siam View that night. He awoke to find himself underwater with his leg trapped. After breaking his ankle to free himself he was swept through several dwellings by the murky, diesel-tainted current before managing to grasp hold of some building blocks. This stopped Simon being swept out to sea as the water receded back to the horizon. Today, his faded superman tattoo has been supplemented by a fresh turquoise inking of a tsunami, along with the date he survived against all odds.
Following the tsunami, the organisers of the surfing contest were in two minds as to whether it should go ahead this year. A third of Arugam Bay’s 3,000 inhabitants had been killed in the disaster, money pledged by charities was slow in reaching the village and the bridge carrying the main road into Arugam Bay had been breached by the waves, cutting the community off for a short period.
However, when the bridge reopened in April the organisers decided the competition should take place. They felt that bringing 100 people into the village would serve as an impetus to get hotels rebuilt as soon as possible as well as injecting much-needed cash into the local economy.
“Everyone worked very, very hard to put it in place,” said Ralph Pereira, managing director of Travel and Tours Anywhere, which developed the contest in conjunction with Sri Lankan Airlines and the BPSA. “We didn’t know for sure that it would go ahead or whether there would be sufficient hotel rooms until six weeks beforehand.”
Guesthouse owners had certainly been hurrying to rebuild and reopen rooms damaged by the tsunami. At Hideaway Guesthouse, where I was staying, the front part of the garden was still a building site. But the main building, with its colonial tea plantation feel was homely and clean, with plump pink and orange cushions brightening rattan chairs.
Before the tsunami, surfing had been a mainstay of the tourism economy right around Sri Lanka’s southern coastline. The island’s south-west has the best waves from November to April, the south-east from May to September.
When Arugam Bay’s right-handers tailed off with the onset of the monsoon, surfers simply headed west to Hikkaduwa, where plentiful hotels and beach villas stood among lush gardens of banana and bourganvillia.
Recreating this surfers’ paradise in the wake of the tsunami has not been easy; with compensation payments from the government yet to materialise, most tourism enterprises have had to rely on their own funds to rebuild their businesses.
“We lost all our watersports equipment,” explained Thilak Weerasinghe, managing director of Lanka Sportreizen. “I didn’t get a cent, but luckily we had built up the business and can afford to rebuild.”
The Travel Foundation and Association of Independent Tour Operators (Aito) are working with the Sri Lankan government, local communities and environmental groups to help people affected by the tsunami regain their livelihoods by developing responsible tourism initiatives.
A number of projects have been earmarked for assistance, including a plan to create a sustainable fishing village. Visitors will see fish being brought to shore and sold, enabling fishermen to benefit from tourism while maintaining their traditional role in society.
Another scheme aims to revegetate land affected by the tsunami, using native plant species. This will include research into using mangroves for coastal protection. Funding for the projects will come from money already pledged by Aito members and donations from customers.
Back in Arugam Bay, there are plans to use money raised by the UK surfing fraternity to build a community surf foundation. Tsunami Surf Relief UK (TSRUK) has so far raised Â£30,000 through charity auctions and events and has allocated a third of this to building a new surf centre. As well as being a focal point where local surfers can meet, the foundation will help generate cash by offering board hire and surfing lessons to visiting tourists.
“We felt the community would benefit from having a centre offering surf-board hire and perhaps swimming lessons and life-guarding,” explained Phil Williams, national director of Christian Surfers UK and a trustee of TSRUK. “The break at Arugam Point is world famous for its waves and surfers from around the world go specifically to that area. In the three or four years after the ceasefire and before the tsunami, more and more surfers were coming to A-Bay; it was a much more prosperous place than before they came.”
As the surfing contest hotted up there was something of a party atmosphere on the beach. Dozens of coloured flags rippled in the tropical wind along the path to Arugam Point where glassy turquoise waves curled invitingly around the reef.
Judges assessed surfers on their turns, style and risk-taking, while waiting competitors nervously flexed their muscles, waxed their boards and contemplated their chances of winning the Â£2,000 prize money.
For the Sri Lankan surfers, many of whom lost friends and family in the tsunami, preparing for the contest helped them overcome their fear of the ocean. As each entered the water, the 100 or so villagers seated beneath the palm trees lining the shore cheered and whistled their support.
“The contest has been hugely important for morale after the tsunami,” said Phil Williams. “It’s sent out the message that, while Arugam Bay isn’t quite yet open for business as usual, it’s back on the tourist trail.”
Way to go
Getting there: Sri Lankan Airlines (020-8538 2001
), offers 11 flights a week from Heathrow to Colombo. Fares start at Â£450 return plus taxesWhere to stay: Travel and Tours Anywhere Ltd (0208 8136622) offers surfing holidays to Arugam Bay and Hikkaduwa. A 15-day holiday to Arugam Bay including flights, transfers and B&B accommodation in a guest house costs from Â£699pp. 14 days in Hikkaduwa costs from Â£599pp. Hire of boards and surfing lessons can be arranged
When to go: The waves at Arugam Bay are best between May and September during the dry season. During the off-season, Sri Lanka’s main surf spot on the south-west coast, Hikkaduwa, has good waves
Further information: Sri Lanka Tourist Board (020-7930 2627), arugambay.com’
Unless you are a surfer:
NOW is the BEST time to visit sunny Arugam Bay!
Mild & Sunny
Calm, Clear sea
Great Wild Life
Amazing Historical Places
Plenty of vacant rooms
Who says: It’s ‘Low’Season in the Bay of Arugam ?