Dehiwela natural reef: To be removed or restored?

Published : 8:00 am  July 13, 2016 | No comments so far |  |  (442) reads | 

Minister allocates funds to remove natural breakwater amidst environmentalists’ concerns 

The removal of the natural breakwater along the Dehiwela Auburn side raised much concerns among environmental experts last week. Fisheries and Aquatic Development Minister Mahinda Amaraweera is said to have finalized his decision to remove the reef once an Environmental Feasibility Report (EFR) was submitted by the ministry itself. This is against strong protest by the environmental activists, residents and marine experts who are of the opinion that removing the natural reef would have dangerous and disastrous outcomes on the residents as well as the environment.

According to Minister Amaraweera, approximately one and a half metre potion of the natural reef would be removed and replaced with an artificial breakwater. The series of events came in to light after the fishing community staged a protest in Dehiwela blocking the railway tracks earlier last week. The fishermen had claimed that they were unable to go to deep sea due to the reef. Several boats have been capsized and nearly 30 fishermen have died in their attempts to reach the shore after fishing. However, the marine experts believe that a reef is an important component in an aquatic environment and removing it would have negative effects on the lifecycle of the organisms.

“I have already allocated money to remove the reef”  

Mahinda Amaraweera

Speaking to the , Dailymirror Fisheries and Aquatic Development Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said the request to remove the reef in Dehiwela was made by the fishermen about two months ago.

“By then, I informed my staff to draft the EFR. The fishermen were quite satisfied by our response. I have already allocated money for this project. The only thing we await is the EFR and estimates. Whatever the actions we take, we first consider the environment. At present, the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) is conducting a study on this matter, and we will start removing it only after the particular reports have been drafted.”  He further stated that if the people in the particular coastal strip were affected by the removal of the reef, they would not go ahead with it. 


I have already allocated money for this project. The only thing we await is the EFR and estimates. Whatever the actions we take, we first consider the environment

Lighthouse to indicate the location of the reef during the night
Pics by Pradeep Dilrukshana


“Colombo will lose its last environmental protection”

Dr. Ranil Senanayake

Eminent environmental expert and systems ecologist Dr. Ranil Senanayake said if the breakwater was removed, Colombo would be losing its last environmental protection against the rising of the sea level.

“The politicians do not understand the gravity of its impact after it’s removed. For all these years, how did these boats leave to the sea? Why do they suggest that it should be removed all of a sudden? This is completely ridiculous and in future there will be many adverse impacts on climate change if such an action is being taken.”  

The politicians do not understand the gravity of its impact after it’s removed


“The removal of the reef should be stopped immediately”
Hemantha Withanage 

Speaking to the ,Dailymirror Centre  For Environmental Justice Executive Director Hemantha Withanage said Sri Lanka was protected by three reefs.

“Removing these reefs would do great damage to the country. I wonder why these fishermen and politicians take such unwise decisions. The coastal area along Dehiwela is now being protected by artificial rock barriers and they are attempting to make the already tough situation worse. This certainly is a setback. The reef usually is the only place aquatic organisms find their food. Other than the reef in the Eastern Province, all other reefs are bleached due to climatic changes such as ‘El Nino.’ We are being deprived of live corals which we could have otherwise used as natural resources. If the reef is removed, there will be a huge negative impact on the lifecycle of aquatic organisms. People living in coastal areas export ornamental fish.

These fish thrive on the reef where they find their own food, lay eggs and breed. Once the reef is removed, they will be deprived of their food. In addition to that, sea temperature has risen from 0.85˚C to 1˚C, and during the floods, it was told that the tide was as high as 110cm, which was why the water level in the Kelani River did not subside for a longer time. Therefore, when the breakwater is also taken away, the houses along the coastal belt will be simply washed out as there will be no protection thereafter. There should be a methodological approach towards identifying the pros and cons of a certain decision before implementing it. Thus, the removal of the reef should be stopped immediately.” 

He further stated that there were around 48 fisheries harbours around Sri  Lanka and that boats could leave for fishing purposes via them.

“Billions of rupees have been spent on establishing these harbours, but why cannot the fisherfolk use them? They did not face any issue during the past, but why now? I also found out that one of these reefs have got slanted due to excessive sand mining for the Port City Project. When countries like the Maldives are striving to protect their land by forming artificial barriers around them, we are removing the only protection we have.” 

The Dailymirror  visited the coastal belt in Dehiwela where the reef is to be removed by next January. A few residents who spoke to the Dailymirror  urged the government to restore the reef with artificial barriers and make it visible for the fishermen especially during the night. 


“We have not asked them to remove the reef”
M. Chandradasa Fernando, Treasurer, Dehiwela Fisheries Society

“More than 30 of our friends passed away due to this reef. We cannot stand this. This is why we raised this matter and held a protest bringing the attention of the minister to it. We are happy that he had initiated measures to mitigate this issue by reconstructing the reef by including artificial rock barriers by next year. We do not want them to remove the reef. Though we did demand the removal of the reef initially, we do not want it now.” 


“The houses along the coastal belt will not be damaged”
W. Janaka 

“The beacon light which used to indicate the reef is not working now. This is our only occupation. How can our families survive when we die? There will be no harm on the houses along the coastal belt because the reef will not be removed.

Therefore, whatever the environmentalists say is negligible. If you look at the sea right now, you could observe that if a boat came towards the reef, it will be carried away in the opposite direction. Since there is a huge force exerted as it changes course, the boats usually have a heavy tendency to capsize.” 


“I lost my brother and uncle because of the reef”
K. Jagath Saliya

“My brother and uncle passed away after their boat hit the reef and eventually capsized. Their families are struggling to make a living now. The two widows do coolie work and their daily earnings are as minimal as Rs. 300-400. Later, they were given a mere Rs. 100,000 from the government and another Rs. 20,000 by the mayor. How can their lives be valued just like that?” 


“Reconstruct the reef”
P.M. Rohini Peiris 

“I feel sorry for these innocent souls. We have been thriving on this occupation. You should have seen our living conditions. We do not want anything from the government. Our only request was to reconstruct the reef in such a way that fishermen knew where they were heading towards. We have seen artificial barriers in Wellawatte and even in Negombo. But why cannot they have one here? However, we are happy that the minister promised to allocate funds for our humble request before the loss of any more lives.”


“Nothing has been done so far”
K. Sumith Pushpakumara

 “We did not demand food or houses or anything else. We only want the reef restored so that we could carry out our day-to-day activities. Much has been said but nothing has been done so far. We sketched a plan explaining how the barriers should be set up, and submitted it to the minister. Now it is all in their hands.”


“Are our lives worth only a few rupees?”
K. Jayadasa Fonseka 

“There is no point in giving money after someone is dead. That has always been the case. You cannot bring a person back to life. Politicians think they can getaway by compensating. Are our lives worth only a few thousands of rupees? Is it not a responsibility of these ministers to take care of the people? We have requested the navy officers to restore the light which is the only indicator available to show the reef during the dark night. We hope that others would also do as promised and ensure the safety of our lives.” 


“We will organise another protest if nothing is done”
Champika Anuruddha Suwaris 

“The only thing these environmentalists know is to yell. It is just us who know what really happens. If they do not take necessary action as promised, we will organise another protest from Koralawella to Wellawatte. That would be an added burden on the people, but we do not have any other option as well. There will be no risk imposed on the houses along the coastal belt. Houses will be affected only if the reef is removed, but we have not asked the authorities to do that. Therefore, it is high time that they walk their talk.”