The coastal stretch from Pottuvil to Panama on the southeast coast of Sri Lanka is blessed with a wide array of tourist attractions. . These include bays famous for surfing and bathing, coastal waters rich with fish resources, lagoons providing ideal niches for prawns, crabs and lobsters, rich mangrove stands – a heaven for aquatic fauna and birds, wide sandy beaches for beach lovers and tall sand dunes for those who seek adventures.
Arugam Bay is one of the best surfing areas in Asia, and has been a popular destination for surfers even at times of civil disturbances.
These attractions draw a large number of local and international tourists to the area making it a tourism “hot spot” and with the dawn of peace in 2009, visitation by both local and international tourists to places of attractions has increased significantly. The resulting unplanned development activities are expected to increase which will contribute to habitat degradation. The area is also famous for traditional fishing.
At a recent workshop organized by IUCN in partnership with the National Academy of Science, Sri Lanka on Tourism Development and Coastal Management on the Southeast Coast, a number of issues related to tourism development were highlighted (Report on the web).
In order to facilitate the media to get first hand information on issues related to ecosystems and tourism development, a media excursion to Pottuvil – Panama stretch was organized during 26-27 February, 2011 under the aegis of Mangroves for the Future Initiative.
Six print and electronic media agencies including the national TV channel participated. In ArugamBay, the team met with representatives from key state agencies such as the Central Environmental Authority Regional Office in Ampara, Divisional Secretariat, Pottuvil and also with the President of Arugam Bay Tourism Association. The main concerns highlighted during these interviews were issues related to sharing the beach by fishermen and hoteliers and illegal infrastructure endangering the health of the coastal ecosystem.
On the following day, after enjoying the panoramic view of sun-rise, which is somewhat rare for those from the sun-set region on the western area of the country, the team took a stroll down the coast to witness the issues they discussed on the previous evening. Several fishermen were also interviewed to get their side of the story.
In Panama, which is about 10km from ArugamBay, the team had the opportunity to see two sets of sand dunes in one location which is rare in Sri Lanka. They were briefed on the formation of sand dunes and types of vegetation found in this coastal ecosystem. The protection provided by sand dunes with special reference to the 2004 Tsunami was related by a resident of Panama.