Pollution Sounds Death Knell for Negombo Lagoon
By Faadhila Thassim
One of the largest estuarine lagoons in Negombo, the well known Negombo Lagoon, has gradually been converted into a waste dump due to the negligence of those responsible.
The lagoon is now considered a dying lagoon. It is not only polluted with waste, including plastic and chemicals, but also the remains of fish from the fish market and waste water disposed of by dry fish production.
The pollution in the lagoon water is visible to the naked eye and is also washed into the lagoon directly through small rivers and canals connecting to it without any filtrations.
‘’The Negombo Lagoon is well known for its biological diversity, the environment services, its ecological value and most importantly its economic value, including the aesthetic value and it is a lagoon that should be protected,’’ Environment Lawyer Jagath Gunawardana said.
Fish market remains
The fish throwaways from the fish market in Negombo are dumped into the lagoon as there is no process formulated to dispose of it or to make other uses.
The head of the Fisheries Union, Anura Roshantha stated that a project was proposed whereby fish remains could be converted into animal feed but this was not implemented. He added that the remains could be put to better use than being dumped into the environment in a hazardous manner including using it for the production of oil and certain medicines.
When questioned, the Municipal Council revealed that though they were well aware of the fish remains being dumped into the lagoon, they are not in a position to address this issue as the control of the fish market is under a religious institution in the area and they could not intervene in its activities.
However, sources of the Ministry of Fisheries stated that the ultimate control of the fish market is vested in the Negombo Municipal Council and although certain corporations generally are permitted to manage these markets, it is the Municipal Council that provides an environment licence to the fish market and this licence should also specify the manner in which the fish remains should be disposed of, adding that the Negombo Municipal Council could not waive responsibility but should monitor the activities of the religious institution and the fish market.
Dry fish production around the Negombo Lagoon
The waste water from the production of dry fish is released to the Negombo Lagoon as these producers have not been provided disposal mechanisms.
Roshantha stated that the salt water released into the lagoon by way of dry fish production has immensely affected the fish in the lagoon. He added that during the commencement of the dry fish production in the area, there were at least 100,000 fish that died and were floating in the lagoon.
He further added that this waste water has also resulted in discoloring of the lagoon and there has to be a necessary filtering system prior to releasing water into the lagoon.
Acting Chief PHI of the Negombo Municipal Council H.A.U.K Gunaratne stated that alternative methods of disposal have to be provided for those involved in dry fish production. He added that they have requested for dry racks and waste water treatment facilities but the Department of Coast Conservation has not approved this.
He said in this way the waste water released by way of dry fish processing could be treated and released to the sea and this should be a process that should be implemented with the joint effort of several entities, including The National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA), The Marine Environment Protection Authority, Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development and a proper process should also be formulated for them.
He added that if this is not done, then steps should be taken to ban these businesses in order to protect the lagoon. However, this would also be impractical given that a total of 600 to 700 are involved in dry fish production in the area with several others employed to carry out the activities of the production.
Coast Conservation Department Director Gamini Hewage, when questioned, said permission could not be granted for those involved in dry fish production to have dry racks and for waste water treatment facilities on the coast as this is a public property adding that however, alternate State land can be allocated for such purpose and if it is promoted by the Ministry of Fisheries by way of a project, it could be implemented.
The Negombo Lagoon Development Project controversy
One of the main responsibilities of the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources is to ensure the lagoon is clean and thereby the Ministry began the Lagoon Development Project which was to be carried out in different phases.
The five main sources identified as pollutants are the Negombo Municipal Council, Bandaranaike International Airport, Ekala Industry Zone, Sri Lanka Air Force and the disposals from Hospitals .
The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources stated that the Lagoon Development Project was to be carried out in four phases and the first one is that of the cleaning of the lagoon and the next three phases was to ensure that it is sustained as mere cleaning is insufficient and it has to be sustainable and a particular infrastructure has to be provided while people should be educated on the manner in which it could be sustained.
Internal sources of the Ministry however stated that although the cleaning was carried out, the remaining phases could not be implemented because they did not receive the necessary approval.
Roshantha stated that it appears as though this project has only removed silt from the lagoon leading to erosion, adding that the main focus should not only be on cleaning the lagoon, but also to ensure that the sources by which the lagoon is polluted, causing irreversible destruction are managed.
Mangroves cleared and affected
Roshantha further stated that mangroves have been cleared to make a path for vehicles to pass resulting in the complete exploitation of the mangroves.
He added that the area so cleared has also been a spot where all the waste that is mixed with the lagoon water is washed off and collected and no mechanism has even been put in place to collect this waste.
Further, Hewage stated that there is fiber that has been washed off from the lagoon and collected under mangroves and although no authority is given to directly dispose waste into mangroves, there is no specific method which has been implemented for the current pollution adding that however, several cleaning projects have been conducted.
Legal provisions for the protection of the lagoon
Dr. Gunawardana stated that according to Section 23G of the National Environmental Act (NEA), no person shall deposit or emit waste into the inland waters of Sri Lanka.
This section is applicable, subject to the provisions of Section 23A of the same Act, which states that no person shall discharge, deposit, or emit waste into the environment which will cause pollution except under the authority of a licence issued by the authority and in accordance with the standards and other criteria prescribed under the Act.
He added that according to Section 23H of the NEA, no person shall pollute any inland waters of Sri Lanka or cause or permit to cause pollution in the inland waters of Sri Lanka so that the physical, chemical or biological condition of the waters is so changed and would make those waters or any part of those waters unclean, noxious, poisonous, impure, detrimental to the health, welfare, safety or property of human beings, poisonous or harmful to animals, birds, wildlife, fish, plants or other forms of life or detrimental to any beneficial use made of those waters.
Hewage stated that continuous Lagoon cleaning has been conducted and a cleaning programme will also be conducted on 5 June with the involvement of several agencies to mark World Environment Day.
The Negombo Municipal Council stated that although there have been practical difficulties in complete management of the Negombo Lagoon pollution, continuous steps have been taken to conduct lagoon cleaning programmes.
What could be ascertained from the current pollution situation in the Negombo Lagoon is that unless all authorities involved in the cleaning and protection of the lagoon and the mangroves jointly take appropriate prompt decisions, the lagoon could completely die resulting in irreversible environment destruction.
(Pix by Manjula Dayawansa)