Arugam Bay, a tourism hotspot

Coastal conservation and management a must:

Disna Mudalige

The southeast coast of Sri Lanka gleams with new vigour and light with the dawn of peace. This area which people dared not to go for decades due to terrorist threats is now wide open for both local and international tourists. It has become a tourism a??hotspota?? with its wide array of tourist attractions. However, the need of a well planned coastal zone management is strongly felt with the tourism expansion in this coastal stretch.

The coastal stretch from Pottuvil to Panama includes bays famous for surfing and bathing, coastal waters rich with fish resources, lagoons providing ideal niches for prawns, crabs and lobsters, rich mangrove stands, wide sandy beaches for beach lovers and tall sand dunes for those who seek adventures.

The Beach at Arugam Bay

Arugam Bay

The tourist season in Arugam Bay in the Southeast coast starts in March with the favourable windy atmosphere for surfing. Arugam Bay is one of the best surfing areas in Asia. As estimated about 100,000 tourists visit Arugam Bay during the season which extends till October.

The area is mainly targeted for the development of community based tourism in order to pass on the income of tourism to the local community. Tourism in the area connects with fishermen, farmers and taxi drivers etc and all of them work as a single network. Fishing, agriculture and tourism are the main three income avenues for the residents in this area.

Since tourism did not flourish until very recent, the majority of people have been traditionally engaging in fishing. About 90 percent of the population in the area involves in the fishing industry.

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Sharing the Beach / Watching the sunrise

Lopressor treatment

Sharing the beach

Arugam Bay is a narrow strip. Within this narrow land about 1500 fishermen engage in fishing while over 50 hoteliers are running their businesses. In fact the beach is packed out. As a result, not only fishermen and hoteliers but also the tourists who come to enjoy the natural beauty of the area face a number of difficulties.

Arugam Bay Tourism Association Chairman M H A Raheem stressed the need of a well organized tourism plan to coordinate relevant stakeholders. a??Arugam Bay area consists nearly 350 guest rooms. In addition homestay facilities are also available in this area. Tourists prefer a clean and unpolluted beach. However fishermen are putting all their garbage, dry fish and fishing nets on beach.

Therefore tourists sometimes go back since they do not like the beach and complain about poor health standards. It is hard to run fishing activities and tourism activities in one place. Moreover tourists who come to this place have no proper way of obtaining information. Attention should be paid to provide them correct guidance,a?? he noted.

At the same time fishermen in the area also undergo many hardships. They require an information centre and a satellite system to ensure the safety of their lives since their job is risky.

M H M Samsudeen and Kalideen are traditional fishermen in Arugam Bay. They voiced out their concerns over the proposed alterations in the area. a??Our fishing huts will be removed and arrangements are made to move us to the lagoon. We have been here for generations.

This is the most convenient place for us to do our job. We do not see why we should suffer unnecessarily to accommodate other people. Already our space to park the boats comfortably is being taken over by the hoteliersa?? they expressed. Kalideen said that he has received numerous help through acquaintances built up with tourists. a??We like tourists and they also like to mingle with us. It would be better if all people can stay togethera?? he remarked.

Community Coordinate Committee meetings were held in every month during past several years to discuss the matters pertaining to people in this area while deciding on development measures collectively. But unfortunately this action has also stopped recently due to misunderstandings among the members.

Fishermen in the aera

Lagoon and mangroves

Mangroves in the Southeast coast are a heaven for aquatic fauna, flora and birds. Preservation of these habitats for the entire community and future generation is an imperative task. Obtaining an Environment Protection License (EPL) issued by the Central Environment Authority (CEA) is essential to carry out any development project or construction in these ecosystems.

Nevertheless unauthorized constructions have also been taking place in Arugam Bay. Prawn and crab populations in the lagoon are also affected due to new constructions.

Small Fisheries Federations of the area have expressed their dissatisfaction over these emerging constructions since all the cement and other building materials are washed away to the lagoon. It was also found out that many hoteliers are operative in the area without the permission of the government.

Sand dunes

Another key attraction of the Southeast coast is the sand dunes. Sand dunes are wind-blown accumulations of sand which are distinctive from adjacent landforms such as beaches and tidal flats. They provide shelter and much needed protection to coastal vegetation and dwellings. Ravana Reula plant variety is commonly seen in these sand dunes.

CEA Ampara Regional Office Deputy Director M A C Najeeb pointed out that a sand dune forest closed to the Arugam Bay contributes to maintain the surfing spot.

a??It also provides protection to the surfing area. Yet the cutting of forest is often seen. Some outsiders also attempt to encroach this area while expanding their lands time to timea?? he observed.

Buffer zone a?? a cause for concern

It is seen that people in this area are confused over the length of buffer zone declared by the Coastal Conservation Department (CCD) after the tsunami. As learned 20 metre buffer zone is reserved when granting approval for new constructions.

For already existing constructions the approval has been granted if at least 10 metre zone from the sea is maintained. a??There is no enough land to build many hotels here. But the demand is very high.

As stated about 7,000 rooms should enter into the industry islandwide within next few years for the promotion of tourism.

So the relevant authorities have to support the hoteliers in a flexible manner,a?? Raheem urged. Day by day the sea is also encroaching the coastal land to worsen the situation. Coastal erosion rate has increased due to sea level rise as a result of global warming. Even though this process is unstoppable it is suggested that its effect can be controlled to a certain level by constructing sand barriers in the coastal belt.

Recent tsunami catastrophe in Japan too reminds us of the vulnerability of our coastal belt. Japan, as many of us have learned in school, is a nation that has taken possible precautions to prevent damages from earthquakes and tsunami devastations. Yet it suffered heavy casualties from the tsunami.

This urges the need of a proper coastal conservation and management for the safety of our people in the coastal belt. The support and contribution of all is needed for this task without longing for short-term gains.


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