Experimenting with Sri Pada ecosystems?

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From a man-made garbage dump to being subjected to numerous environmental disasters, the Sri Pada ecosystem is now heading towards another catastrophe with houseplants being introduced to this biodiversity hotspot.

Certain houseplants such as dendrobiumcrumenatum and white dove orchid have been introduced to the Sri Pada ecosystem along the Hatton and the Erathna roads, fixed to the trees in the area secured in coconut husks.

Sri Pada is a pilgrimage site that has been held sacred by the devotees of four religions namely Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims and the eco system surrounding this sacred peak is vital both in terms of its religious and environmental values.

Environmental Lawyer Dr. Jagath Gunawardana said the Sri Pada eco system comprises a Nature Reserve and a Sanctuary and is a biodiversity hotspot due to which introducing non-native plant species to the area could be disastrous when they strive to coexist with the native species in the habitat.

He said the reason as to why such an attempt has been taken in such pristine and serene environment is in itself questionable adding that these houseplants are minute in nature and even though they have been fixed to the trees by way of a coconut husk, they could easily be blown and scattered away by the wind and tend to grow in different areas within the Sri Pada eco system which could lead to the gradual extinction of the native Orchid species.

He noted that those with limited knowledge of the value of the eco system should refrain from indulging in such activities that could result in the degradation and create an imbalance in the natural habitat.

The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) observed that these houseplants are different from the native orchids found in the Sri Pada eco system due to which they could tend to be invasive while noting that it is of great concern that even though introducing house plants is not permissible, it also appears to have been carried out without any thorough research or study of the environmental sensitivity due to which immediate measures should be taken to remove them forthwith.

Importance of native orchids

Professor at the National Institute of Fundamental Studies, Dr. Siril Wijesundara added that orchids are primarily found in submontane and montane areas  and the Sri Pada eco system is partially montane and partially sub montane which means that Orchids are abundantly, natively grown in this area.

He said it is crucial that the natural eco system should contain naturally grown orchids and not non-native species that have been forcibly introduced to an area which they do not naturally belong to.

He added there are endemic areas that have been identified with high biodiversity and that such areas have also been termed as co-endemic areas while noting that Sri Pada is a co-endemic area which means it is one of highest and richest biodiversities due to which the species within the eco system should not be meddled or experimented with.

Elaborating further, Dr. Wijesundara said the Sri Pada eco system is a completely different habitat for houseplants to grow, and as the behaviour of such plants is highly unpredictable, it could be an immense threat.

Legal protection

Dr. Gunawardana noted that the said activity is governed by and is an offence under Sections 6 and 7 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance which provides for acts prohibited in Strict Natural Reserves, National Parks, Nature Reserves and Jungle Corridors and those regulated in Sanctuaries.

He added that the offence is a cognisable offence and offenders can be arrested without a warrant.

Further, according to Section 3 (1) (a) of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, no person shall be entitled to enter any Strict Natural Reserve or Nature Reserve, or in any way to disturb the fauna and flora therein.

Response from the Authorities

Forest Conservator General, Nishantha Edirisinghe observed that it is not permissible for any individual or entity to carry out such activities within the Sri Pada eco system citing that any activity within the nature reserve or the sanctuary should be duly sanctioned by the relevant authorities.

While noting that the said activity falls within the purview of the Forest Department, it will be investigated and action would be taken to initiate litigation.

Specialists in the field have been vociferous of such activities since it would immensely affect the smooth growing cycle of the native orchid species within the Sri Pada eco system while they have also observed that those responsible who have carried out this type of activity are either individuals or entities with or without knowing the seriousness its environmental sensitivity and the damage that it causes to the eco system.

It is strongly stressed this matter should be promptly addressed and remedied before it leads to a greater catastrophe; before the situation gets saturated and normalised around such sensitive and protected eco systems.

(Pic by Anusha Gayan Atthanagoda)

BY Faadhila Thassim