Reporting from Wadduwa
Pollution & the Peaceful Sea
Fishing industry in Wadduwa in crisis due to pollution in the sea
The sea is calm in Wadduwa at the beginning of each year. Fishing vessels of all sizes easily set sail to catch fish. However, the fishermen seem more silent than the sea.
Southern Thalpitiya is a coastal village situated between Wadduwa and Panadura in the northwestern coast of Sri Lanka. It is a traditional land used by the fisher community for laying massive nets in the shallow waters. This industry is called Ma-Dal fishing. The majority of fishermen are Buddhists and some are Catholic. They work together forgetting religious and cultural differences.
Urban waste flowing to the sea from the mouth of the river at Panadura invades the shallow waters in the area south of Panadura town. As a result, the fishing industry is affected. We spoke with Ariyadasa Fernando, Chairman of the Rural Fisheries Development Society of South Thalpitiya about this issue.
“I am a fisherman. We are traditional Buddhists, but we engaged in Ma-Dal fishing with Catholics in the area too. Usually, the catch at this time of year isn’t low. About 50 to 60 people join in dragging Ma-Dal, and all of them earn a living in addition to their portion of the catch that they take home. They can survive even during the time the sea is rough with that money. The situation has drastically changed now. The beach is lonely, even though this is the time the sea is calm. Many of the net operators have given up their traditional industry. It is challenging now to the operators to pay for the helpers to drag the nets. Their wage may be a mere Rs. 200 each day now, so what is the purpose of engaging in such livelihood.”
In the East Coast, due to the lack of affordable help, tractors are used to drag the fishing nets in. This method cannot be practised along the West Coast since the beaches are very narrow. Therefore, about 50 to 60 people are needed to drag the fishnets. In this context, the operators cannot pay the people; they have no other option to keep their nets in boxes. Ariyadasa Fernando was keen to tell us the reason for the shortage of fish.
“There are two river mouths from the north and south of Thalpitiya. One is the Bolgoda river mouth in the north, and the other is Kalu river mouth in the south. A massive heap of garbage flows to the sea from both rivers now. The weather patterns have also changed. Untimely rains wash the garbage upstream towards the sea. They are deposited on the sea bed, and so the geography has changed. The temperatures have also changed. I am not an educated man, but I know with my experience that fish cannot live in the present waters. Their eggs are destroyed, and now our industry has also extinguished.”
Susil Premalal Perera is a Roman Catholic who works as a fishnet puller. He is an experienced and patient frontline puller in Ariyadasa Fernando’s team. However, both the leader and helper now look on at the sea without engaging in their industry.
“The fish have abandoned us. Lately, when a net is pulled, we have to segregate fish and plastic. About seven or eight years ago, a small ship was brought here to dismantle and to be sold. It has also become a nuisance to the fishermen,” Susil, Ariyadasa’s helper said. He is the chief witness to the complaint brought by Ariyadasa.
Early last year, marine scientists stated that a dead sea is being created in the Bay of Bengal near the island of Sri Lanka. International focus is on the lifeless nature developing in the Indian Ocean. The satellite images have also identified the danger. Marinelife breeding grounds are being destroyed fast while sea worms and bacteria are growing more quickly. Coral reefs are dying together with the fish inhabitants there. Dead and rotting fish spread a terrible smell. This is the first time the Indian Ocean has been threatened in this manner.
The threat is highest in an area of about 60,000 square kilometres of the 2.1 million square kilometre Indian Ocean. The people, including the fisher communities in countries around the Bay of Bengal are polluting the Indian Ocean. Marine scientists have warned the threat to spread unless immediately attended and the dangerous activities are stopped. The garbage dumped into the streams and rivers ultimately reaches the sea. Many people in the countries of the Indian Ocean region thus contribute to the pollution of the ocean either knowingly or unknowingly.
The main countries around the Bay of Bengal are India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. The main rivers of these countries flow to the Bay of Bengal. The rivers that flow to the sea from Thailand, Malaysia and the Andaman Islands also ultimately reach to the regions around the Bay of Bengal. All these rivers bring tons of garbage dumped by people into the rivers.
Meanwhile, a large number of cargo ships sail in the seas around the world daily. Half of them cross the Indian Ocean and connect with the ports around the Bay of Bengal. Seventy per cent of the petroleum tankers of the world also cross the Indian Ocean. They use the Indian Ocean as a dumping ground for their garbage.
Fisheries is the main livelihood of about 28.5 million people in the countries around the Indian Ocean. However, all of them contribute to the pollution of the sea either knowingly or unknowingly threatening to their livelihoods and themselves.
According to the international calculations, about ten metric tons of plastic and polythene is dumped in the ocean each year. Plastic takes 450 years to compose in the sea. Estimates indicate that the weight of the plastic and polythene in the sea will be more than the weight of the marine life by 2050 if the dumping is carried out at the same pace as today.
We found plastic bottles, polythene bags, milk powder packs, sanitary wear and all types of other garbage in the sac of the Ma-Dal nets. The right side of the story is that the fisher community works in unison to prevent the trash from being dumped again in the sea. Environment-conscious people can be happy that the fisher community and the tourist hotels in the area have joined hands in the project of cleaning the beaches and the sea. The hotels have deployed their staff to remove the garbage pulled back into the beaches by the fishermen.
However, this is not a permanent solution. The crisis asks for a more thoughtful answer. The garbage floated into the sea from these two rivers belong to all the communities without division. The damage is being done to an ocean that belongs to all of us and we all lose fish, a primary source of protein for all of us. Name it in any way as global warming or climate change. The results are felt by everyone alike. Therefore, finding solutions is also the responsibility of all of us.